The political journey of Gordon Brown

Chris Harvie on the many faces of the Prime Minister.

This is an opportune moment, following Gordon Brown's momentous statement earlier today, to revisit my Books Interview with Christopher Harvie, MSP for the Scottish National Party and author of Broonland: the Last Days of Gordon Brown.

Your book Broonland traces the political trajectory of Gordon Brown. You first met him in the mid-1970s, didn't you?
He worked part-time for the Open University and I worked in the history department. But I really got to know him in autumn 1978, when I moved to the Institute for Advanced Studies at Edinburgh University. Brown and I came together when we were running the Lothian Labour campaign for a Yes vote in the 1979 referendum on the Scotland Act. He emerged from that campaign with very great credit, whereas the rest of the Labour Party was nowhere. I suspect that out of that came a degree of disillusionment on his part with the party. The guys who worked hardest were the Communists - the NUM vice-president Mick McGahey, people like that. The Communists were dogmatic, but they were honest! These are the people that Lawrence Daly [the Scottish miners' leader at whose funeral last year Brown read the eulogy] came from. And don't forget that quite a few contributions to The Red Paper on Scotland, edited by Brown, came from the Communist Party. Brown had a degree of trust in these guys that he didn't have either in the machine politicians of west central Scotland or in the Trots.

You can read the rest of the interview here.


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Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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Political video has come full circle in Obama and Clinton’s mockumentary-style films

Political campaign videos are increasingly mimicking the specific styles of filmmaking created to mock them.

This week, Hillary Clinton released a campaign video featuring Barack Obama, in an attempt to persuade her supporters to vote early. It revolved around Obama’s self-professed earliness. “I’m always early,” he tells us, cheerily. Aides chip in to explain this irritating habit, which becomes progressively more exaggerated, his approach to timing absurd. “You know how you beat LeBron James one-on-one? Get there 45 minutes early. Then it’s one-on-none.” A former staffer sighs. “You try telling the President of the United States there’s no such thing as a one-on-none.”

This is an instantly recognisable mockumentary style – deliberately shakey camerawork, complete with lots of zooming in and out, as absurd corporate behaviour is interspersed with incredulous talking heads and voiceover. It has its roots in the Office UK, taking the States by storm with The Office US, 30 Rock and Modern Family, and developing a political subgenre in The Thick of It, In the Loop and, most recently, Parks and Recreation. (Vague comparisons between Clinton and Poehler’s Leslie Knope abound.)

The content, too, seems familiar – a politician talks to camera about a personality quirk that is broadly a strength for someone in government, but exaggerates it to create a geeky, optimistic goofball, and a pretty likeable character. Take Leslie Knope on never smoking weed:

In terms of style and content, they’re fairly indistinguishable. And this not the only Clinton campaign video influenced by mockumentary and comedy tropes . In March, the Clinton campaigned released a “mean tweets” video with Senator Al Franken in the style of a Jimmy Kimmel Live talking head. Three days ago, a video campaign starring “Fake Lawyer” Josh Charles, an actor on The Good Wife, was released. It borrows heavily from mockumentary styles as well as self-mocking celebrity cameos in advertising. Even some non-comic videos, like this lighthearted one about Clinton’s granddaughter, have the exaggerated camerawork of the genre.

Of course, we can trace these campaign videos back to Obama again. His campaigns have always been heavily video based, and he’s taken the piss out of himself for Buzzfeed to promote campaigns. But the White House’s official channels are also in on the joke. In 2013, they released a mockumentary starring Steven Spielberg and 30 Rock’s Tracey Morgan, in which Obama plays Daniel Day Lewis playing Obama.

Earlier this year, the channel released another mini mockumentary, featuring Obama preparing for the end of his time as president. (The film even ridicules a less self-aware style of video – Obama posts a misjudged Snapchat about Obamacare, and asks “Did it get a lot of views at least?”)

A politician whose ideal evening consists of children’s movie marathons with colleagues? Where have we seen that before? Yes, political video has come full circle. Personally, I’m waiting on the Hillary Clinton break dancing clip

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.