Gordon Brown has spoken out against what he described as “politicised” parts of the British press, which he said try to “destroy pieces of people’s characters” to make political points.
The former prime minister made the remarks during an unscheduled appearance at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, where he joined wife Sarah on stage.
HIs wife Sarah was appearing at the event to discuss life at Number 10, which she has written about in her book, Behind the Black Door.
However, after addressing the packed audience last night, she announced her husband, who had been sitting in the front row, would be joining her on stage.
The couple discussed a range of topics, from the recent phone hacking scandal, the famine in East Africa and the collapse of the economy, to the challenges of living in the public eye, and the many charitable causes they champion.
During the question and answer session, one audience member asked about the couple’s views on phone-hacking.
Brown, himself a possible victim of hacking, repeated comments he made during a speech in the House of Commons last month.
Commenting further on the media, he went on: “I think that certain newspapers became highly politicised.
“In Britain, what the press do, if they really want to get at someone, is they challenge their motives and their integrity. They try to suggest that they’re not the person that they say they are.
“The way the press works in this country is they try to doubt the motives of people all the time. They try to suggest that you’ve got a malign purpose in what you’re doing.
“And they try to take pieces of people’s characters and destroy those pieces so they can make their political point as a result of that. You can’t say it is not hurtful.”
Nick Barley, the director of the festival, who was chairing the event, asked Mrs Brown if she felt she had been able to “surf above” press criticism in comparison to other figures such as Cherie Blair.
She said: “I think if it’s happening within your own family it doesn’t matter if it’s you as an individual or not. I remember saying at the time you always feel you’re one step away from your biggest mistake.”
She added: “I know that for Cherie, she was literally the first working spouse of a prime minister, and it’s actually not that long ago, back in 1997.
“But that was seen as a very big deal at the time, and there was much discussion and much debate, and nowadays that’s not such an issue.”
Appearing on stage, Mr Brown said he did not want to make a political speech. He said he wanted to share with the audience the three things he had learned during his reflections in the past year, after losing the general election in 2010.
He said the first lesson was the “huge difference” people could make when they united for a good cause. Secondly, referring to the events of the past week, in which riots erupted in several cities, he said people needed “a strong sense of national purpose”.
“I tried and failed when I was prime minister to secure a debate about national purpose in our country. About how we can change things by working together,” he said.
“It seems to me you can change things for the better if you have a strong sense of national purpose.”
Thirdly Mr Brown said there were global problems which could only be solved by global solutions.