1. The release of al-Megrahi
After the Lockerbie bomber was released from jail on compassionate grounds, the Prime Minister refused to give his opinion on whether it was the right thing to do. Instead, he said that it was a matter for the Scottish Executive and that he couldn’t give an opinion as part of the British Government. But papers later showed that he had given an opinion. But when the UK Government and Scottish Executive published papers relating to the controversy, it was revealed that Bill Rammell, who was then a Foreign Office minister, told the Libyan government that ‘neither the Prime Minister nor the Foreign Secretary would want Mr Megrahi to pass away in prison”
2. An early election
Brown appointed a general election coordinator three days before he became Prime Minister in 2007. He started writing a manifesto within two weeks. He reorganized the Labour Party’s entire structure. He hired an advertising agency and then he got his closest adviser to tell the newspapers that he was on an ‘election footing’ (Ed Balls, Sunday Telegraph, 23 September 2007). Brown refused to dampen speculation. When asked by Andrew Marr in September about an early election, Brown said: ‘whenever the time comes for an election these will be the issues… whenever the time comes for a decision I think the issues, of course, are clear…. that's what I think I will be trying to show the people of Britain this week. Brown bottled it and declared there wouldn’t be an election after all. On 6 October 2007, after months of dithering, Gordon Brown finally announced that there would not be a general election in 2007.
3. His favourite biscuit
When the Prime Minister took part in a webchat with readers of the Mumsnet website, he was asked on 12 separate occasions what his favourite biscuit was. Each time, Brown responded with silence. This failure to answer such a simple question prompted one user to question how much political calculation the Prime Minister needed to provide a response: ‘Maybe he needs to consult with his advisers on what would be the most vote-winning biscuit to admit to liking?’ It was only the next day when Number 10 strategists realised that his failure to answer was attracting negative publicity that an answer was cobbled together. Brown posted the following on his Twitter account: ‘I missed Mumsnet question about biscuits: the answer is absolutely anything with a bit of chocolate on it, but trying v hard to cut down.' See, wasn't so hard, was it? But still no brand.
4. Brown’s favourite food
Brown offered 8 different dinner and types of cuisine when asked what his favourite meal was by a school child. Brown responded to the question by saying: ‘Traditional things like steak and….all that and I love er…spaghetti bolognese, carbonara and all these things…so I like all these er er things…er…er, I like Chinese food, Indian food, I like English food, British food…I like…er…er…French food…I like, I like almost everything.’ When pressed further by his interviewer to give a firm answer, Brown finally replied: ‘I think it would be steak.’
5. Brown’s favourite band
Brown attempted to portray a softer side of himself by professing that he enjoyed listening to the Arctic Monkeys. In an interview with New Woman magazine in May 2006, Brown said that ‘the Arctic Monkeys really wake you up in the morning’. Months later, it emerged that Brown couldn’t actually name any songs by the Arctic Monkeys. When asked by men’s magazine GQ to give the names of any of the songs on the band’s debut album, Brown couldn’t offer a single one. He instead said ‘they are very loud’ and went on to praise Coldplay.
6. Televised leaders’ debate
Brown refused to have a televised leaders’ debate. When asked by David Cameron last year to commit to a televised debate between the main party leaders, Brown refused to do so out of hand: ‘In America they do not have Question Time every week, where we can examine what the different policies of the different parties are’. (Hansard, 27 February 2008, column 1084). Earlier this year, Lord Mandelson said that Brown would be happy to have a televised debate with David Cameron. However, the Prime Minister’s aides rejected such a notion with one saying: ‘Our position has not changed. Voters have the chance to compare the party leaders each week at prime minister's questions’. Brown was going to announce support of televised leaders’ debates in his conference speech before deciding against doing so. According to Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political editor, ‘Drafts of his conference speech yesterday contained a promise to do what no British prime minister has done before: to call for a series of TV debates with his opponents not just during the election campaign but starting now. Once again, however, Gordon Brown has shied away at the final hurdle. An offer to debate will not now be in his conference speech because, I'm told, “he wants to focus on policy not tactics”’. One aide later added more detail of the short notice at which the decision to back out of the decision on leaders’ debates was taken: ‘Do you know when the decision was finally taken by Gordon to drop the commitment to debate Cameron from the speech? At 1:30 in the morning on the day of his speech, that’s when he decided. At that point there’s panic. Quick, who has some substance we can use to fill the hole in the speech? That’s when they quickly re-heat the stuff about putting single mothers in state-care homes, and chuck it in. At… 1… 30… in the morning of the speech.’ (Labour aide, Ian Martin’s WSJ Blog, 4 October 2009). Brown finally decided to announce his support of leaders’ debates 18 months after David Cameron challenged him about it at PMQs. The Prime Minister finally committed to televised debates on 3 October saying: ‘It is right that we set the issues before the British people.…I relish the opportunity of making our case directly to the people of this country.'
7. Meeting the Dalai Lama
After months of dithering over whether to meet the Dalai Lama when he came to Britain, Gordon Brown finally decided that he would meet him. The Prime Minister arranged to meet him at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s residence, rather than his own. It was reported that the decision was taken because Gordon Brown was afraid to upset the Chinese government. But the Prime Minister’s spokesman claimed the decision reflected the fact that the Dalai Lama is a ‘respected spiritual leader’.
8. Welcoming the Olympic Torch
The original route for the Olympic Torch did not include Downing Street. But on 3 April, it was announced that Brown would welcome the torch in Downing Street the following Sunday. While the Prime Minister did welcome the torch into Downing Street on 6 April, in order to look like he understood the position of anti-China protestors he refused to touch or hold the torch. However, he was happy to be pictured with it.
9. Signing of the Lisbon Treaty
In late 2007, Gordon Brown couldn’t decide whether to personally sign the Lisbon Treaty or not. After days of dithering, he finally opted to put his signature on the document, but not to attend the official signing ceremony on 13 December 2007. However, a question still remained over whether he would sign the renamed EU Constitution in public: ‘At first Downing Street suggested that he would miss the entire event. When his attendance was confirmed at the start of the week, it was suggested he would sign the treaty in private. It was only on Tuesday that his officials finally announced he would sign in public’ (The Daily Telegraph, 14 December 2007).
10. Beijing Olympics’ opening ceremony
In March 2008, after Nicolas Sarkozy announced he might boycott the Beijing Olympics’ opening ceremony, Gordon Brown said he would attend the opening and closing ceremonies: “We will not be boycotting the Olympic Games; Britain will be attending the Olympic Games ceremonies” (BBC News Online, 10 April 2008). Days later, he confirmed this saying that Britain would “be present at the Olympic ceremonies and I will certainly be there” (ibid). On 9 April, after two weeks of dithering, Downing Street announced that Brown would not actually attend the opening ceremony, contrary to his earlier position.
In actual fact I could easily have turned this into a Top 30 list. There's just so much material...