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Friday, October 30, 2009 

That's how the cookie crumbles.

That Gordon Brown, eh? So indecisive that he can't even decide what his favourite biscuit is, even though he was asked twelve times? Indicative of his entire approach to government, right? Dithering and prevaricating and procrastinating while our metaphorical Rome burns, unable to take charge and leaving everybody incensed with his behaviour?

Well, surprise surprise, it turns out that the now infamous question posed by the hardnosed politicos over at Mumsnet was never actually given to Brown to answer, although Brown himself said at the time he had "missed" the question. In a blog posted on the site, an explanation behind how he "missed" it is given:

Now it’s not often we find ourselves feeling sorry for politicians but we have to admit to feeling more than a pang of sympathy for the PM over the past few weeks. 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 advisers. He didn’t avoid the biscuit question because it didn’t cross his path (as we 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.


Why Downing Street themselves didn't point this fact out more forcefully is easy to explain - they knew they wouldn't be listened to and that if they did they themselves would have been accused of focusing on trivia. It must though have been absolutely infuriating for all involved for this nonsense to be used to attack both Brown and the government, as both the Times and Sunday Times even included mentions to it in leader columns, while the Mail, typically, suggested his failure to make up his mind was because he was "apparently unable to decide what the politically correct answer ought to be".

As the astute writer behind the blog on Mumsnet points out, this is one of those supposedly frivolous things that can actually colour minds more significantly than an actual decision or policy might. It was also manna from heaven for those who have already decided that Brown is a ditherer, even though this rather contradicts his supposed Stalinist ruthlessness that others have fingered him with having:

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, indeed. Mumsnet does however some other pertinent criticism of the prime minister and his performance at the session:

That’s not to say Biscuitgate didn’t reveal something about the Prime Minister. We 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.


Or perhaps they simply had ran out of other things to ask? That Brown was brusque or short though does fit with some other pictures painted of the man: he probably didn't want to be there or thought he could make better uses of his time. After all, should the prime minister himself really be giving interviews to places like Mumsnet? New media might be great and all, but wouldn't appearing on say, 5 Live and answering callers as Brown has also done in the past, and reasonably well from memory, be both more representative and reach far more people? Wouldn't a health or family minister be a better fit and still able to answer other questions, if perhaps with not the same authority? Brown might deserve a lot of things, and you can certainly suggest he brought it on himself, but like with John Major and tucking his shirt into his underpants, sometimes the most ludicrous things stick while much else gets forgotten.

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He does dither and he makes to many mistakes like the TA cuts in a time of war which we are in, you do not cut anything military.

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