Daniel Hannan, a Member of the European Parliament, launched a “three-and-a-half-minute diatribe” against Gordon Brown earlier this week, calling him  “The devalued Prime Minister of a devalued government.” 


This earned him a tongue-lashing from Labour MP Tom Harris as “truly repugnant” for “the total absence of any sense of patriotism.” 

Harris contends that “Gordon Brown isn’t just Labour’s prime minister; he’s Britain’s prime minister, and for any UK politician to launch such a disgraceful, personal attack on his country’s leader — in a foreign country — is nothing short of disgraceful. “

The Spectator’s Alex Massie retorts,

I don’t regard Gordon Brown to be the nation’s leader and I don’t think you should either. Similarly, Tony Blair was never the “nation’s leader” and nor was John Major. That job has been filled, very effectively, by Queen Elizabeth for some time now. Harris’s attempt to create a convention whereby it’s considered poor form to be rude about the Prime Minister – a mere MP for crying out loud – when we’re overseas is terrible guff. Pompous guff at that. By contrast the American President is head of state so there is at least some greater reason for the convention that applies in their politics.

But Gordon Brown is merely MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath and leader of the party with the most seats in the House of Commons. That’s not enough to insulate him from criticism, at home or abroad. And nor should it be. Indeed, one of the advantages of monarchy is that it puts politicians in their proper place and, in theory at any rate, prevents the growth of the kind of spawling, imperial presidencies we see in some countries that were foolish enough to abandon the monarchical principle. That is, France and the United States of America…

As the flap several years back caused when the lead vocalist of the singing group Dixie Chicks told an audience in London that  she was “ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas” demonstrates, it’s not a settled issue on this side of the Pond, either. 

Then again, as the more recent brouhaha over radio host Rush Limbaugh’s insistence that “I hope Obama fails” makes clear, the conflation of the head of state and the head of one branch of the Federal government is widespread. One can and should hope that the policies of the opposition party fail to pass but, inartfully phrased, it will lead to the charge that one wants the country to fail.

Of course, as Harris’ reaction seems to show, having a figurehead monarch does totally dispense with the problem.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.

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