Biscuitgate and what it really tells us about the Gordon Brown and more importantly, the meedja

(154 Posts)
JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 22-Oct-09 12:09:13

Hello all - hope you will forgive me a little rant about biscuits!

Yesterday Biscuitgate reached PMQs, with a jolly quip from David Cameron about the Prime Minister not being able to decide the biscuits for his bunker and thereby cemented its place in the folklore as a paradigm example of either Gordon Brown's indecisiveness or Gordon Brown's insincerity or Gordon Brown's cowardice, depending on your point of view.

Influential right-wing blogger Ian Dale gleefully penned Gordon Brown's Top 10 Ever Dithers and ranked Biscuitgate number three. Star political columnist Rachel Sylvester concluded in the Times: "It fits a pattern of dithering." The Sun screamed Jammie Dodger! and paraphrased MadameDefarge's tongue-in-cheek remark: "Maybe he's consulting advisers on the most vote-winning biscuit to admit liking." And Sam Leith in the Standard, bless him, said it was all Gordon's own fault for coming on Mumsnet anyway: "If the forums you choose for public engagement are Mumsnet and GMTV's sofa, rather than the Today programme and Newsnight, these are the sorts of questions you must expect to answer."

Now I can't say I often find myself feeling sorry for politicians but I have to admit to feeling more than a pang of sympathy for the PM over the past few days. Because the truth is that Gordon Brown didn't follow the live chat on the screen directly - he answered the questions grouped and fed to him by MNHQ and his advisors. He didn't avoid the biscuit question because it didn't cross his path (as I said on Radio 5 on the day, in fact).

Why did we do it that way? Well, there were so many questions and they were coming in thick and fast on every subject under the sun, so we reasoned that the most effective way of getting as much ground covered as possible was to group them together for him, rather than him answering random ones that he happened to notice.

We had a pile as long as your arm on subjects ranging from climate change to childcare vouchers to treatment of asylum seekers. After he'd covered a question he would immediately demand, "What next?" Occasionally, we'd squeeze in a light-hearted one - for example about what movies he wanted to see - but we were conscious of not merely focusing on frivolities. Fun as biscuits are, access to the Prime Minister is precious and we would have hated to waste time on Rich Tea Fingers at the expense of miscarriage or school starting age. Plus, of course, we'd rather not be seen as a soft touch in the GMTV sofa mould.

That's not to say Biscuitgate didn't reveal something about the Prime Minister. I strongly suspect that Mumsnetters resorted to asking about biscuits repeatedly towards the end of the chat because they were frustrated at being fed chunks of official policy rather than being engaged with directly. It's hard, of course, to keep up with the banter on a board like ours - particularly if you're not reading the actual chat and you're a Mumsnet virgin.

But the truth is it has come more naturally to other politicians to speak to and emotionally connect with Mumsnetters. That, I think, is a fair criticism of Gordon Brown, as is a a certain brusqueness, intermittently displayed during his visit. What is unfair is that Biscuitgate proves just how indecisive or insincere Gordon Brown is - he might be of course - what do I know? But there was absolutely nothing he did during his visit to Mumsnet Towers to suggest it.

In fact the real message of Biscuitgate is that whatever you do or say as a Prime Minister can and will be woven into any commentator's particular beef or agenda, in order to prove their point.
Who'd be a politician, eh?

Well said, Justine.

I was shocked to see that it was also in yesterday's Times Editorial.

TheDevilEatsBabies Thu 22-Oct-09 12:16:25

Justine, was there a reason why the biscuit question wasn't given to him, then, if the questions were grouped in the way you describe?
to anyone who doens't know this, it really does look like he just ignored it.

surely it counted as a valid question because so many people asked it (i personally saw it as a way to find out if he really was a PM for the people and unforunately, I agree with David Cameron's comments in this case)

thanks

And shock and angry that MN isn't seen as a way to 'engage with the public'. If we aren't the public then who is?

bossykate Thu 22-Oct-09 12:17:16

but even worse than that justine is the dismissive casual sexism that completely ignored the fact that plenty of hard-hitting questions were asked (and answered even the level of engagement was not what many - naively imho - would have wanted) - but hey we're only mothers right - so fluffy, silly, girly questions are all we're good for.

on the other hand, i have heard the issue of windfall tax on banks (one of my questions) raised by evan davies and stephanie flanders (separately) on today, and have also seen it discussed on the ft - no mention of this coming up in the "biscuitgate" debate though hmm

bossykate Thu 22-Oct-09 12:18:46

sorry to hear he was a little brusque sad

Indeed - and I asked who, beyond the banks, was going to help pay back our debt, and that was never responded to either. Nor was my question about media bias even alluded to ...

Hey ho. I know we won't all get our questions answered, but it was illustrative of the type of questions that were put to him, beyond the ones about childcare.

ItsAllaBitNoisy Thu 22-Oct-09 12:20:14

Even if he had been asked the biscuit question, he should have ignored it. It was embarrassing tbh.

bossykate Thu 22-Oct-09 12:21:21

actually, i think there is a woman's hour feature in the inherent sexism of the press response.

He could have answered it immediately, with a lighthearted response, which would have illustrated that

a) he has a sense of humour
b) there is a man behind the politician
c) that he can engage with us

But this question wasn't put to him.

morningpaper Thu 22-Oct-09 12:24:03

DOH this is like a live chat where you haven't been told that the other person is deaf and blind... not really a live chat

Now I'm going to have to apologise to Alastair Campbell and there's no way he's ever going to be my next husband NOW

Well that was Justine's cunning plan, MP ...

But I agree. If it's billed as a live chat, then it should be a live chat.

AitchTwoToTangOh Thu 22-Oct-09 12:26:01

you should get that printed somewhere, push comes to shove in 'comment is free' but pref a paper.
i've felt guilty all week cos i said on the thread that i'd be disappointed if he answered the food and telly questions instead of the meatier ones...
what a shame this whole thing is, and fwiw justine i agree totally with not making a priority of the biscuit question at the time. poor man.

iwascyteenagewerewolf Thu 22-Oct-09 12:26:30

bossykate, I totally agree. The media is patting us all on the head and telling us to run along, girls, with our silly questions and our lightweight opinions angry Twats.

morningpaper Thu 22-Oct-09 12:26:58

perhaps he was brusque because he was STARVING because all his heavies had eaten the carrot cake?

... sorry, should have said

c) that he can engage with us on political issues as well as those that are more lightweight

squeaver Thu 22-Oct-09 12:28:16

Well said Justine

morningpaper Thu 22-Oct-09 12:28:38

Alastair said in the jacuzzi last night on his blog: "I have been saying for some time that Labour leaders are more spinned against than spinning"

(such a good line)

AbricotsSecs Thu 22-Oct-09 12:29:35

Good point well made, Justine.

Slubberdegullion Thu 22-Oct-09 12:30:02

Quite ItsAllABitNoisy, although he would have scored a bushel of points if his reply had been

<sigh>

[eyeroll]

I'm more than happy for my PM to show a certain brusqueness. I want him to be grumpy and look haggard and to demand "what next". He's a busy man with Things To Do. When did our politicians have to become all nice and approachable?

thedolly Thu 22-Oct-09 12:30:13

The whole 'live webchat' idea is a farce. Why does the PM even have to come in to MN towers? It is too contrived by far.

The Treat Em Mean and Keep Em Keen type of approach, eh, Slub? grin

morningpaper Thu 22-Oct-09 12:31:32

> I'm more than happy for my PM to show a certain brusqueness. I want him to be grumpy and look haggard and to demand "what next". He's a busy man with Things To Do. When did our politicians have to become all nice and approachable?

Ah yes that is true

You don't really want a Prime Minister who wobbles around fretting about his panniers all day, do you?

AitchTwoToTangOh Thu 22-Oct-09 12:31:35

i think it must be very hard to know what's for the best in advance of these events... you've got an hour with the prime minister, do you want as many questions answered as possible or do you want him to be the guy doing the typing?
apparently he needs emails in something like 20pt anyway, so the chances of him being able to read mn in real time was always slim. presumably this is why he's suggested a video link now?
i think his advisers shot him in the foot here, they should have been studying this place and known how things roll. surely they at least read piers morgan?

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