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Brown a 'bully'? Give me a break. The last thing people need is 'pretty please with a cherry on top' from their leader

He threw things. He yelled. He kicked the furniture. According to what has been called "the sexiest chapter" of a new book, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is not an easy guy to work for. He isn't No Drama Obama, always calm under pressure. He isn't Tony Blair, who, at least as portrayed by Alastair Campbell in his account of the Blair years, was a model of control and civility, even under extreme pressure.

Negotiator

The external contrast between the wide-mouthed smile and wide-eyed optimism of Blair and the almost Disney grumpiness of Brown, was always pretty obvious. What is now suggested is that the contrast was maintained behind the scenes, with Blair a born and polite negotiator and Brown a surly tosspot who once had to be warned by one of her Majesty's civil servants that his behaviour was not what was expected of a man in his position.

The fact that so many people have picked up this "sexy" chapter of the new book and only this chapter speaks volumes about how personalised and trivial we -- the media -- are in our approach to politics and politicians.

Never mind how they are governing their country, prosecuting a war or coping with the collapse of the world economy. That's difficult for journalists to make interesting. Much more difficult than setting out to answer the perennial question "But what's he REALLY like?"

It has always been thus. As soon as Lyndon Johnson, former President of the United States, was good and dead, a raft of books emerged telling us how he fornicated, fulminated, walked around his offices naked and insisted on continuing meetings with his subordinates while he sat on the loo.

Even half a century after his death, there's still a market for JFK's sex life, rather than for volumes explaining the disaster of the Bay of Pigs.

The difference is that, in the past, commentators waited until the leader had snuffed it before they started to write books about his off-stage life. Now it happens in tandem with a political career -- we get to peep behind the curtains of a politician's private life from the moment he or she achieves high office. It's called transparency. It's justified on the spurious basis that we cannot really judge a political leader's performance until we're sure what they're like when they're at home.

The other big change is in our view of bullying. In the past, it was regarded as coming with the territory. Now, leaders raising their voice to one subordinate on a couple of occasions can lead to a bullying claim.

If even half of what is being said about Brown is accurate, then it says just as much about those around him as it says about the man himself.

Many people love a robust, in-your-face, aggressive leadership style. Just ask Michael O'Leary's extensive fan base.

Meltdown

Those who enjoy the O'Leary approach to communication would suggest that if you have a prime minister trying to cope with global financial meltdown, involvement in an unpopular war and the collapse of his party's vote, you are pushing your luck if you expect him, in every private situation, to say "Pretty please with a cherry on top, could I gently ask you to take care of this task?"

And even those who don't favour O'Leary's style might sympathise with the occasional bit of chair-kicking. Because you can't bully a chair, but kicking it could release a lot of tension...


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