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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Harmful gender stereotypes in ads have real impact – so we're challenging them

The ASA must make sure future generations don't recoil at our commercials.

July’s been quite the month for gender in the news. From Jodie Whittaker’s casting in Doctor Who, to trains “so simple even women can drive them”, to how much the Beeb pays its female talent, gender issues have dominated. 

You might think it was an appropriate time for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to launch our own contribution to the debate, Depictions, Perceptions and Harm: a report on gender stereotypes in advertising, the result of more than a year’s careful scrutiny of the evidence base.

Our report makes the case that, while most ads (and the businesses behind them) are getting it right when it comes to avoiding damaging gender stereotypes, the evidence suggests that some could do with reigning it in a little. Specifically, it argues that some ads can contribute to real world harms in the way they portray gender roles and characteristics.

We’re not talking here about ads that show a woman doing the cleaning or a man the DIY. It would be most odd if advertisers couldn’t depict a woman doing the family shop or a man mowing the lawn. Ads cannot be divorced from reality.

What we’re talking about is ads that go significantly further by, for example, suggesting through their content and context that it’s a mum’s sole duty to tidy up after her family, who’ve just trashed the house. Or that an activity or career is inappropriate for a girl because it’s the preserve of men. Or that boys are not “proper” boys if they’re not strong and stoical. Or that men are hopeless at simple parental or household tasks because they’re, well...men.

Advertising is only a small contributor to gender stereotyping, but a contributor it is. And there’s ever greater recognition of the harms that can result from gender stereotyping. Put simply, gender stereotypes can lead us to have a narrower sense of ourselves – how we can behave, who we can be, the opportunities we can take, the decisions we can make. And they can lead other people to have a narrower sense of us too. 

That can affect individuals, whatever their gender. It can affect the economy: we have a shortage of engineers in this country, in part, says the UK’s National Academy of Engineering, because many women don’t see it as a career for them. And it can affect our society as a whole.

Many businesses get this already. A few weeks ago, UN Women and Unilever announced the global launch of Unstereotype Alliance, with some of the world’s biggest companies, including Proctor & Gamble, Mars, Diageo, Facebook and Google signing up. Advertising agencies like JWT and UM have very recently published their own research, further shining the spotlight on gender stereotyping in advertising. 

At the ASA, we see our UK work as a complement to an increasingly global response to the issue. And we’re doing it with broad support from the UK advertising industry: the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) – the industry bodies which author the UK Advertising Codes that we administer – have been very closely involved in our work and will now flesh out the standards we need to help advertisers stay on the right side of the line.

Needless to say, our report has attracted a fair amount of comment. And commentators have made some interesting and important arguments. Take my “ads cannot be divorced from reality” point above. Clearly we – the UK advertising regulator - must take into account the way things are, but what should we do if, for example, an ad is reflecting a part of society as it is now, but that part is not fair and equal? 

The ad might simply be mirroring the way things are, but at a time when many people in our society, including through public policy and equality laws, are trying to mould it into something different. If we reign in the more extreme examples, are we being social engineers? Or are we simply taking a small step in redressing the imbalance in a society where the drip, drip, drip of gender stereotyping over many years has, itself, been social engineering. And social engineering which, ironically, has left us with too few engineers.

Read more: Why new rules on gender stereotyping in ads benefit men, too

The report gave news outlets a chance to run plenty of well-known ads from yesteryear. Fairy Liquid, Shake 'n' Vac and some real “even a woman can open it”-type horrors from decades ago. For some, that was an opportunity to make the point that ads really were sexist back then, but everything’s fine on the gender stereotyping front today. That argument shows a real lack of imagination. 

History has not stopped. If we’re looking back at ads of 50 years ago and marvelling at how we thought they were OK back then, despite knowing they were products of their time, won’t our children and grandchildren be doing exactly the same thing in 50 years’ time? What “norms” now will seem antiquated and unpleasant in the future? We think the evidence points to some portrayals of gender roles and characteristics being precisely such norms, excused by some today on the basis that that’s just the way it is.

Our report signals that change is coming. CAP will now work on the standards so we can pin down the rules and official guidance. We don’t want to catch advertisers out, so we and CAP will work hard to provide as much advice and training as we can, so they can get their ads right in the first place. And from next year, we at the ASA will make sure those standards are followed, taking care that our regulation is balanced and wholly respectful of the public’s desire to continue to see creative ads that are relevant, entertaining and informative. 

You won’t see a sea-change in the ads that appear, but we hope to smooth some of the rougher edges. This is a small but important step in making sure modern society is better represented in ads.

Guy Parker is CEO of the ASA