At yesterday's press conference, Brown again presented himself as whiter than white; but only white in the sense that sepulchres are white. But there's so much to be incredulous and appalled about in our politics at the moment that one aspect of his behaviour hasn't received sufficient commentary. Yesterday, Brown soiled the highest level of British politics with a brazenness and shamelessness never witnessed in modern times.
The conference began with Brown promising he was going to be 'totally candid'. This wasn't borne out: when he was asked repeatedly to confirm that he'd wanted to replace Alistair Darling, he repeatedly refused, even stating the opposite. This was despite it being clearly briefed (if such an oxymoron can be permitted) throughout the week that this was his intention.
'Politician lies!' is not much of a headline nowadays. But I believe this was rather different: it was a lie, which didn't avoid the truth through a careful form of words; it was a lie where the truth wasn't a matter of opinion; and it was a lie and everyone in the room knew it was. I think in this sense this lie represented a remarkable new low for British public life.
Tom Bradby of ITN expressed the frustration of the political pack present in the room. He still used civilised euphemisms, in accusing the PM of not being 'candid'. But it was clear that he was publicly accusing him of being a liar. And what was extraordinary was that Brown knew he was lying; the press corps knew he was lying; he knew they knew; and they knew that he knew.
Later, on the Ten O'Clock News, Nick Robinson told us, in a not so roundabout way, that the Prime Minister was lying on this point. This surely represents the crossing of some sort of moral Rubicon: our premier news programme accuses our Prime Minister, rightly and unarguably, of being a liar. And we move on. At least Kirstie Wark on Newsnight was suitably enraged: her questioning winded Peter Hain, who did his crappy best to avoid providing any real answers.
And this wasn't all: this whole farrago came in the wake of Brown invoking the name of his father who, in an apparently remarkable departure for parenting, 'brought [him] up to believe you have to behave with integrity at all times' and 'always [to] be honest'.
Hypocrisy, of course. But what a strange, almost naive, form of hypocrisy. My parents brought me up to be a good person; it's most likely that yours did. It doesn't always work, but it very often happens. Brown appears to believe he's nearly unique in this.
So, a rather bizarre hypocrisy. I wish a novelist like Justin Cartwright or Alan Hollinghurst would try to plumb the murky depths of the Brown character. Or perhaps Brown might find his Robert A. Caro? But then, Lyndon Johnson, the subject Caro has practically devoted a lifetime to, whilst being a true monster was altogether a larger figure with some real achievements. You can't write a tragedy without a hero.
Brown has been so destructive of so many parts of the polity and economy. Not least, he's established a new low in British politics with regard to truth telling and integrity (the word 'irony' doesn't seem to do this situation justice). His political destruction at the hands of his 'colleagues' or the electorate won't be enough for me now (although it would be nice). We need a punishment with some grand historical and ritualised resonance - can we impeach him?
UPDATE: And here's the heroic Fraser Nelson trying to nail Brown on one of his more important lies. Mendacity is a way of life for this man.