Cameron son’s death unlikely to soften the relationship with Brown

If their past relationship is anything to go by, the apparently sudden death of David Cameron’s severely disabled son Ivan is unlikely to forge much a bond between him and Gordon Brown, who so tragically lost his premature first born Jennifer nearly seven years ago. Apart from rare photocalls when his son John was born in 2003 and Fraser in 2006, Brown has made a virtue of shielding his family from publicity, even unfavourably contrasting his stance with Cameron’s. If anything, the fact that they both had disabled sons, (Fraser has cystic fibrosis) seemed to accentuate their temperamental differences. From the Daily Mail:

In September, he (Cameron) rejected Gordon Brown’s charge that he used his disabled son as a ‘prop’.

He told the Daily Mail: ‘Some people criticise me for talking about Ivan, but he is an important part of my life. My view is that this whole thing of children and wives –
do what you feel comfortable with and let people judge you.’

Update. In the Commons at noon, the words spoken were appropriate and full of feeling. PMQs were cancelled and statements of condolences were expressed before the Commons adjourned to 12.30. First came what has become the usual condolences for the week’s tally of soldiers killed in the past week, two in Afghanistan, one in Iraq. Then the Prime Minister spoke of Ivan Cameron..
“I know that in his all too brief life, Ivan brought joy to those around him. I know also that for all the days of his life, he was surrounded by his family’s love. Every child is precious and irreplaceable and the death of a child is an unbearable sorrow no parent should ever have to endure. Politics can sometimes divide us but there is a common human bond that unites in sympathy and compassion in times of trial and support for each other in times of grief. Sarah and I have sent our condolences to David and Samantha. I know that in the whole country, our thoughts and prayers are with David and Sarah and their whole family today.”

For the Conservatives, William Hague said that David Cameron deeply appreciated the suspension of the normal Prime Minister’s Questions as a mark of respect to his son.
“As much as anyone, the Prime Minister will appreciate the dimensions of this loss. Ivan’s six years were no easy ones. His parents lived with the knowledge that he could die young, but that has made their loss no less heartbreaking. David wanted me to say how grateful he and Samantha are to so many NHS workers who did their utmost for their son this morning but who helped him every day from the moment he was born… As David has said before, for him and Samantha, he will always be their beautiful boy”.

And the political legacy of this personal tragedy? Without any sense of cynicism whatever, it will be brief and awkward. There will probably be a partial truce in the bitterest exchanges over dealing with the recession, but inevitably, this will subside after the funeral. I would guess Gordon Brown will appreciate the break, although David Cameron will probably be the beneficiary in the polls. Whatever happens politics continue, even if sub rosa for a short time. Both Brown and Cameron will be keenly watched for signs of any softening in their mutual antagonism. Brown in particular, for although he feels deeply, he expresses himself far more awkwardly than the more easily gracious Cameron. I would expect him to be on his mettle in the coming weeks.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London