Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Twit Wisdom

"Calling someone a coward via the internet isn't courage"


(context: a debate over whether MP's who spoke up for Brown to leave at Mondays meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party were 'courageous').


  1. As the creator of that comment, I'll explain myself at greater length than twitter allows.

    I had happened to post on Tom Harris's blog and then David came on afterwards calling what he'd done "courageous".

    Moral Courage is the willingness to act rightly even when faced with opposition or shame from a group.

    First, examine the "act rightly" clause. It's possible that Harris meets this if he had a genuine reason to stand up to Brown.

    But Harris "loyally" signed Brown's nomination papers, served in his government and then waited until Purnell, Blears, Hutton and Hoon had quit before telling the PLP that Brown had to go.

    David charitably suggests that Harris could have changed his mind in the last two years. But surely he realised that Brown wasn't a charismatic figure in 2007. Although I can't ever remember meeting Harris, he must have been around the same sort of Scottish Labour Party gatherings in the mid 90s as I was. Brown doesn't see the need to go around forming relationships with his colleagues, that was as true then as it seems to be now. But Harris has had plenty of time to explain his change of view and he hasn't.

    The uncharitable explanation is that he's just interested in his own career and if stood up at the PLP meeting out of self-interest then it's not courage.

    Even if you believe that he was acting rightly then he hasn't suffered by speaking out anyway. There might be some political parties where speaking against the leader would be ill advised (I wouldn't have fancied telling Stalin he ought to step down) the Labour Party isn't one of them, Harris was heard politely, even got a scattering of approval. Attacking someone personally because of their beliefs isn't the Labour way, in fact I've often had deep policy debates with Labour members at meetings, only then to have a drink with the person I was passionately disagreeing with. If the fallout with Brown is over some kind of policy disagreement then I might be on Harris's side or Brown's side but at least it would be over something important.

    Cowardice is the wrong word for Harris's behaviour, but I'm not sure what the right word is. I do still feel David that you were over praising Harris, just because he's a Christian doesn't make everything he does right.

  2. Thanks Andy: for the record I wasn't praising Harris for the fact that he's a Christian. He could have jumped on the bandwagon earlier, but saved his comments for the PLP (the right context), which, because it was reported elsewhere, he then blogged about.

    By the time of the PLP Brown was pretty safe, all the resignations had happened, and Harris didn't have much to gain by speaking out. He was clearly going against the tide, and (speaking personally) as someone who often has great problems telling people the things they don't want to hear, it takes a certain amount of guts to tell the PM, in front of 300+ MP's, that you think he should go. The Downing Street machine still seems to work well enough to have a go at people who rub the leadership up the wrong way.

    I'd also like to err on the side of praise - it's easy to pick holes in people's words or actions, so I'd rather call Harris and Brown courageous (for different reasons) than opportunistic/desperate to cling on to power.