How long before ‘Biscuitgate’ pops up in the ongoing saga of Gordon Brown and his choice of favourite biscuit? Oh, it just did. Richard Nixon, you who opened our politics to the Daddy of the Gates, the Water-one, you have a lot to answer for.
Biscuitgate is real ‘can’t win territory’ for GB, as I learned at the reception prior to the excellent Audience with Stephen Fry for Leukaemia Research at the Criterion, which went some way towards cheering me up after Burnley’s defeat at Blackburn.
‘Can you explain to me,’ asked one Fry-fan as she sipped champagne ‘what on earth is wrong with Gordon Brown that he can’t just answer a straight question about what his favourite biscuit is?’
I tried to give a possible explanation, namely that the Prime Minister had been trying to engage on Mumsnet about serious policy issues, and the question might have set a tiny alarm bell ringing that his choice of biscuit could take the discussion, and any subsequent coverage, down a less serious route.
‘Yes, but whether he likes it or not,’ came the retort ‘we live in an age where that kind of question gets asked, and people want to see the human side of their leaders, not just the boring policy stuff.’
It was one of those sessions where you were lucky if you got more than a minute to stay in any one conversation, and as I was hosting the event for the charity, I was trying to do the rounds a bit anyway, so we had to leave the biscuit issue there.
A few chit-chat sessions later, I was in the company of someone in a state of fury even greater than Mrs Biscuitgate. ‘Can you explain to me,’ said Fry-fan Number 2 ‘what on earth Gordon Brown was doing phoning up Simon Cowell to ask how Susan Boyle was standing up to the pressure?’ You see what I mean about can’t win?
I have never discussed Susan Boyle or biscuits with GB, though I have eaten biscuits with him, as we have been at many meetings where biscuits are on the table. I seem to remember he quite likes shortbread and chocolate digestives. I like jaffa cakes, but they tend not to make it onto Number 10 or Number 11 plates, so I’ve usually gone for those ‘Nice’ ones with quite a lot of sugar on them. And frankly, a Boost bar with extra glucose, or a Yorkie bar with (a bit of) biscuit and raisins, beats any biscuit any day of the week. (You see, how ridiculous it would have been if the Prime Minister had started going on about that kind of thing in a serious exchange about childcare, flexible working, minimum wage, policy on carers and so forth – ‘Will Brown’s biscuit choice give him boost he craves?’ ‘Why on why does Gordon Brown talk about biscuits when he should be tackling the debt?’).
So, back at the Criterion theatre, just as I tried to imagine the Number 10 thought processes re the biscuit question, I tried to do the same re Susan Boyle. At the time of the Boyle frenzy, I suggested to Fry-fan 2, Number 10 will have been getting asked the whole time whether GB watched it – (was it X-factor or Britain’s Got Talent, I can’t remember) – and this will have been his way of answering.
As with most things in life, you can make a case both ways. Yes, there was a case for saying what his favourite biscuit was. There was also a case for not saying what his favourite biscuit was. Who bloody cares, apart from biscuit manufacturers and newspapers and websites edited by Phil Space?
Yes, there was a case for him not saying anything about Susan Boyle. And there was also a case for him saying something about Susan Boyle, because, as Fry-fan 1 said ‘we live in an age where that kind of question gets asked, and people want to see the human side of their leaders, not just the boring policy stuff.’
But again, in the scheme of things, it is not important.The golden rule in both, however, is that if it is not important, don’t worry about it. Let the papers blather on. As it happens, there has probably been more biscuit coverage of him not answering than answering, but he was not to know that at the time.
The annoying thing is that it helps David Cameron, because he finds it a lot easier to answer questions about Rich Tea biscuits than he does about why he is giving an inheritance tax cut to his rich mates, or what he intends to do about the Lisbon Treaty now that Czech President Vaclav Klaus has indicated he will not be stalling long enough for a Cameron-led government to have a referendum.
I notice that Biscuitgate gets slightly more space in The Times today, on Page 11, than Klaus-shutting-the-Lisbon-gate-gate gets on Page 20.
But I note too that GB is out and about addressing the issue of climate change, while Dave is probably sitting by his phone hoping one of the papers calls to ask what he thought of Cheryl Cole’s performance on X-Factor on Saturday night.