What Brown could say tonight

Can he turn nightmare into opportunity?

So, can Gordon Brown turn his worst nightmare into his greatest opportunity? On the face of it, "bigotgate" has almost no redeeming features. It could, admittedly, have been worse: he could have sworn. And as Charles Kennedy said minutes before I was about to join the debate on Sky News this morning, the public may warm to his "human" side, and be somewhat repelled by what in some cases could be seen as a form of bear-baiting.

Tonight's debate in Birmingham, meanwhile, presents one last crucial chance for Brown to connect with the electorate. This otherwise unlucky politician can be thankful, at least, that such a spectacular and media-friendly "gaffe" did not happen after it.

Nonetheless, and although Brown has today said "yesterday was yesterday", yesterday will arguably haunt him tonight, unless he deals with it straight away. If he can do that, as Kennedy said, he can then expect to move on to the substantial issues and not be hounded about it throughout the hour-and-a-half-long programme.

With luck, Brown can instead move on to the economy and dominate the debate. But first, if I was advising Brown (and luckily for him and me I am not), I would encourage him to start by saying something like this:

I want to address the British people directly, about an area that I am usually not comfortable discussing in public: character.

Yesterday, I made a bad mistake. After hours of campaigning on the road, and after misunderstanding some perfectly innocent remarks, I allowed my frustrations to get the better of me in the privacy of my car. I do not blame the 24-hour media for picking up on it; I blame only myself. Why? Because I betrayed myself.

I ask you to believe me when I say that my anger is my passion: passion for the values of fairness that are deeply ingrained in my character. And they are the same values of the majority of the British people -- a great people whose sense of decency and justice sometimes struggles to be heard above the shouting in politics and the media.

I am for middle and modest earners, for those who work hard, for those who take responsibility. And that is why I take responsibility for my own flaws. I am very far from perfect.

But in the past 24 hours, I have learned something about myself. I have in the past been, at times, too aggressive, too impatient. And in turn, I have promised myself and I promise you now: I will always strive to improve.

Because in the end, this great country's future is too important to be about personality: but it is partly about character.

And I live to serve: to get up early every morning and fight hard for British values, and not go to bed until the day's fighting has been done. Tonight, I humbly ask you to let me serve, and together we can change Britain for good.


James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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PMQs review: Theresa May shows again that Brexit means hard Brexit

The Prime Minister's promise of "an end to free movement" is incompatible with single market membership. 

Theresa May, it is commonly said, has told us nothing about Brexit. At today's PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn ran with this line, demanding that May offer "some clarity". In response, as she has before, May stated what has become her defining aim: "an end to free movement". This vow makes a "hard Brexit" (or "chaotic Brexit" as Corbyn called it) all but inevitable. The EU regards the "four freedoms" (goods, capital, services and people) as indivisible and will not grant the UK an exemption. The risk of empowering eurosceptics elsewhere is too great. Only at the cost of leaving the single market will the UK regain control of immigration.

May sought to open up a dividing line by declaring that "the Labour Party wants to continue with free movement" (it has refused to rule out its continuation). "I want to deliver on the will of the British people, he is trying to frustrate the British people," she said. The problem is determining what the people's will is. Though polls show voters want control of free movement, they also show they want to maintain single market membership. It is not only Boris Johnson who is pro-having cake and pro-eating it. 

Corbyn later revealed that he had been "consulting the great philosophers" as to the meaning of Brexit (a possible explanation for the non-mention of Heathrow, Zac Goldsmith's resignation and May's Goldman Sachs speech). "All I can come up with is Baldrick, who says our cunning plan is to have no plan," he quipped. Without missing a beat, May replied: "I'm interested that [he] chose Baldrick, of course the actor playing Baldrick was a member of the Labour Party, as I recall." (Tony Robinson, a Corbyn critic ("crap leader"), later tweeted that he still is one). "We're going to deliver the best possible deal in goods and services and we're going to deliver an end to free movement," May continued. The problem for her is that the latter aim means that the "best possible deal" may be a long way from the best. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.