As normal politics has been made all but redundant by Covid-19 and what the British government has, or hasn’t done to minimise the effects of the pandemic - I thought that I would take a sideways look at politicians and what drives them to do what they do. In terms of personality and political approach, it seems to me that both Prime Minister Johnson and opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer are about as far apart in style and content as it is possible for two politicians to be. Boris’s jocular bluster, as opposed to Sir Keir’s measured seriousness, is a fascinating clash of what politics should, or should not be about.
Many thousands of words have been written already about how Boris has met his match at PMQ’s - with Sir Keir’s forensic approach to any subject deeply wearying for the blond-bombshell. This is not to say that Boris is dim, far from it - it’s just that his mind doesn’t seem to be set to take in properly researched ‘detail’ that should be an essential tool in any senior politicians armoury. Yes, too often Mr Johnson appears to be winging-it and Sir Keir has become very good at exposing the fact that Boris doesn’t read his briefing notes properly - or, at all. Nevertheless, for all his irritating laziness, the British Prime Minister is a brilliant political campaigner. Witness an EU referendum won against all the odds and an 80 seat overall majority in a general election where he slaughtered the Labour Party and all-comers just before Christmas of last year.
However, many people, would prefer to see the rather boring but reliable Sir Kier Starmer, at the helm of government at this critical time, rather than the present incumbent of No 10 Downing Street who seems incapable or unable to properly manage the nations resources at this time of crisis. Indeed, some would say that whereas one hasn’t got the wit or imagination to tell an untruth - the other has a problem in the opposite direction. And yet, and yet!
CHARISMA AND TWINKLE
This dichotomy of one mans strength as opposed to another weakness, has made me think of the varying differences and similarities of other 20th and 21st century politicians. The only modern British politician I find really difficult to work out is Tony Blair.
He had an easy charm, a rather fixed charisma, a twinkle, and a certain way with him. Yes, he crinkled a grin - maybe too often, but there was often a controlled and possibly contrived ‘mateyness' in play there, that mostly signalled nothing. To be honest I’m not that fond of political leaders, past or present, who make great play of their supposed spotless virtue. Indeed, if you think about it, many of the world’s finest leaders are to be found on the louche side of respectability. I suppose the most obvious example of this, alongside a certain Bill Clinton, is that of John F. Kennedy.
Kennedy and his Republican opponent were formidable politicians, but it was an open secret at the time of his presidency - that JFK had, shall we say - a mixed and varied love life! On the other hand President Nixon was a monogamous family man, with no outward sign of anything that could be described as less than respectable. Yet, by common consent, he was a ‘SOB’ of heroic proportions.
A POLITICAL MAVERICK
How would modern day political image makers have coped with creating an ‘image’ for a certain Winston Spencer Churchill? Churchill was a proper toff - of spectacularly noble birth who never used public transport in his entire life. He was a political loner who changed party allegiances three times and was a born political troublemaker and maverick.
Indeed, he would not have become Prime Minister at all in May 1940 if it weren’t for the parliamentary Labour Party who were desperate to get rid of Neville Chamberlain - most Tories would have preferred Lord Halifax - who wanted to sue for peace with Hitler. Although he was happily married for many years, he could be difficult, stubborn and extremely demanding on occasions. I have this wonderful vision of Churchill being groomed by a modern day PR guru - the guru would be appalled. How was he to ‘package’ this man? For pities sake, he was 65 year of age on becoming Prime Minister and looked at least five years older. He spoke with a sort of growling lisp and constantly smoked huge Havana cigars that would keep a northern family in lard for a week.
Furthermore, he drank like a fish! Indeed, our nations finest Prime Minister’s alcohol consumption in one day would pole-axe a Shire-horse. However, his wartime deputy and Labour Party Leader, Clement Atllee - was a brilliant personal and political foil to the exuberant and sometimes erratic Churchill. People often forget that Mr Atllee basically ran civilian Britain in those wartime years, with little fuss or noise - Churchill wisely trusted him implicitly. Mrs Thatcher wasn’t everyone’s cup-of-tea (to say the least) but rather like the aforementioned Tony Blair, she took votes from voters that in the past would never even consider voting for ‘Her’ party, thus making her a formidable Prime Minister - who, like T. Blair Esq. sat in Downing Street running the country for ten years because of that undoubted fact.
RIGHT FOR ALL THE WRONG REASONS
In the USA, President Trump will be seeking re-election in November against an opponent who is even older than he is. How the Democrats must wish they had a Barack Obama to turn to - and not just a so called ‘safe bet’ who beat an octogenarian to his parties nomination. I have left President Trump until last in this extended essay, because it is hard to know what to say about him - or indeed his presidency. Only to say that he is clearly a ‘one-off’ - a politician who acts like no other politician before him; mainly, because he doesn’t even pretend to be one - a politician I mean! I don’t know if he will gain a second term; but what I do know is that he has changed American politics forever.
People may laugh at him, but he has a rock solid, if rather reactionary natural constituency, who have felt misunderstood and ignored by the Washington elite for decades. Also, he totally by-passes the usual conventional means of communicating with the people via the press and media i.e. by doing it himself through social media. We can mock, but - I would bet my pension that incoming US Presidents of the future will all seek to do exactly the same thing. It is said that President Trump is often right in understanding the American public, but - for all the wrong reasons perhaps?