Bully for The Observer

Posted on 22 February, 2010 by


The Observer did a good launch. The redesign is subtle, efficient and readable – and, as Jeremy Leslie says, it benefits from cutting away a lot of the excess sections. A Sunday paper that doesn’t leave me with a depressing jumble of unread newsprint to scrunch into the recycling come Monday? That’s something I might actually buy semi-regularly.

But it’s not just what The Observer team were selling: it’s how they sold it. Securing the Rawnsley extract for the relaunch meant that The Observer was dominating news coverage for the whole weekend. Anyone who was likely to buy a newspaper on Sunday would have known that The Observer was offering an agenda-setting story, and had to consider buying it.

A few people think it was wrong to print Rawnsley’s analysis of Brown. I don’t: The Observer isn’t the house journal of the Labour party, and “Prime Minister is a bully” is absolutely newsworthy. So, good for the paper, and probably not that bad for Brown. After all, it’s hardly a surprise if powerful men have volatile tempers. People who already thought that Brown was a cracked paranoiac will take this as confirmation; people who feel better disposed to him will see it as an unfairly exaggerated portrait, sweetened by Rawnsley account of Brown’s creditable reaction to the banking crisis in 2008.

Anyway, regardless of Rawnsley’s terribly civic minded editorial about how the voters have a right to know the character of their leaders, all the stabbing-a-chair-with-a-Biro, was-a-bit-rude-to-a-typist stuff is gossip and scandal. Interesting, but not exactly the stuff of poll booth conversions – general elections aren’t referendums on the sort of workplace environment the No 10 staff should enjoy, and if it was, we’d be a nation of vicious sadists to offer Andy Coulson to the Garden Girls instead of Brown.

Thanks to Christine Pratt and the mysterious intervention of the now-imploding National Bullying Helpline (ace exposé work done by Adam Bienkov), the bully-Brown story was too smudgy to leave an impression by dawn today anyway. It did its weekend work, and now it’s been sucked into the rolling narrative of unstable PM/aggrieved statesman (depending on where you stand) that’s pretty much guaranteed to continue until Brown steps aside to become a cheerful economics professor or whatever he has planned for afterwards. And if NBH is discredited off the back of this, the BBC has taken a hit too for its credulous reporting of a dubious source.

When the next round of polling comes out, I’d guess that Rawnsley’s revelations will have done relatively little to affect the relative standing of the Tories and Labour – and had a much, much bigger impression on his paper’s launch circulation. The Observer did a good launch. And that’s probably all the bullying story comes to.

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2010

Posted in: Politics, Print