I shall never be able to play The Smiths again without thinking of Prime Minster David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague sharing a hotel room – and Cameron complaining about Hague’s disappointing endowment.
In that autobiography you may possibly have noticed former British PM Tony Blair is currently touting, the one called ‘A Journey’ (a title that masterfully captures the sublimely faux modesty of its subject), Blair compares himself to Princess Di.
‘“We were both, in our own way, manipulators” — good at grasping the feelings of others and instinctively playing on them.’
The papers of course have seized on the People’s Premier’s candidness, making headlines out of it. That and his observation (conveyed in a kind of morse prose) that Gordon Brown had: “Political calculation, yes. Political feelings, no. Analytical intelligence, absolutely. Emotional intelligence, zero.” And also his claim that he knew Gord’s premiership would likely be ‘a disaster.’
I agree with Tony. Or rather, Tony agrees with moi. Back in 2006, when Brown’s bizarre (and now conveniently forgotten) popularity with the media was rampant, just before his coronation as Labour Leader, I predicted, with Cassandrine accuracy, that Brown would be a disastrous leader of the Labour Party and that he had in fact already lost the next General Election. I also compared Brown and Blair to Charles and Di, calling Brown an ‘operator’ and Blair a ‘great manipulator’.
Of course, it didn’t really take much insight to see all that coming, even if most of the media couldn’t at the time. But in the piece I talked about how Blair’s ‘lying’ was what made him a much more successful, much more popular politician than Brown – who was very, very bad at it. Which is not to say that Brown was a much more honest man – just that he wouldn’t and couldn’t perform for us.
‘Admitting he lied is not a mistake Blair is likely to ever make. Blair’s special talent, the thing that puts him ahead of most other politicians, certainly in British political history, is that he can convince himself his lies are literally the god’s honest truth, at least for as long as he’s telling us them. And – truth be told – in his mind, he never actually ‘lies’ to us at all. He’s an actor – an actor of the Stanlislavsky school: the emotion he shows us is ‘true’, it’s just usually attached to something that is not. This is why he’s such a great performer and politician – we appreciate and are flattered by the energy and the psychosis he puts into his performances. He is a great manipulator…’.
‘Brown on the other hand is a great operator. And operators, unlike manipulators, are painful to watch. They resent having to manipulate us and we resent having to watch them resenting having to manipulate us. Tony is Princess Di to Brown’s Prince Charles. Brown, who tells us he is ‘quite private’ and who prefers ‘substance over celebrity’ as if these were reasons why we should be interested in him, clearly wants power but he doesn’t really want to become the thing that power is in this mediated day and age: an actor. He won’t be forgiven for that by the electorate/audience.’
Brown’s desperate agreement to appear in those Election X Factor shows – in which David Cameron and Nick Clegg, both thespian heirs to Blair, shone with their ‘look, guys’ sincere insincerity – only threw his boring manse inflexibility into even more painful relief. The electorate treated him with Cowellian disdain (the most damning thing of all was that those listening on the radio thought Brown had won the debates).
And even in the political afterlife the emotional gulf between Brown and Blair persists. Blair of course is passionately hated, where Brown is merely despised. Or worse, pitied.
‘Doesn’t he look OLD?’ we spit, when Blair pops up in the papers or on telly, usually to tell us with those raised eyebrows how he doesn’t regret anything and didn’t fib about anything either, honestly guys. ‘Hasn’t he aged BADLY?’ we gloat, pretending to be beyond his charms now. But actually sounding just like a bitter ex trying to convince themselves that their former amore fell apart after the affair ended after he turned out to be sleeping with the au pair.
Truth is, Blair still has that Diana star quality – partly because he is still a great manipulator, but mostly because it’s so difficult to work out which side of the reason/unreason line he’s on these days. You can’t but watch with rapt attention, trying to divine the content of his (Catholic) soul.
By Mark Simpson
So, pretty, svelte – and somewhat swish – David Milliband and his million-dollar smile, who was gushingly described by Hillary Clinton as ‘attractive’ and ‘vibrant’, is the front-runner in the Labour leadership contest to replace the big clunking grimace of Gordon Brown with something more electable.
It seems highly likely that soon all three main political parties in the UK will soon be led by adorable 40-somethings who look like moisturised, pampered 30-somethings who never miss the gym – and whose suits are cut to advertise their shape rather than disguise it. Metrosexual politicians rule. Literally. The ‘new politics’ is looking increasingly like a kind of ‘metro-politics’, in which male politicians have to seduce the electorate with their looks and sensitivity in order to have any chance of ugly, hard power.
Despite famously using a poster of Cameron next to an Audi Quattro and warning ‘Don’t let him take you back to the 1980s’, it was Gordon Brown who looked like the throwback. Gene Hunt without the swagger, or the nostalgia. And more creases. (If Cameron looks like anyone from the Eighties, it’s definitely not Gene Hunt or mannish Mrs T – it’s Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley at his most preening.) Even without the financial meltdown Brown was never going to win those brightly-lit TV debates on our Widescreen HDTVs. Not because of anything he said of course, but because he looked like death on toast. Dry toast.
David Cameron and Nick Clegg by contrast are politicians with prime-time skin who have gone one step further and entered into a political metro-marriage. A straight civil partnership which proclaims to the world: this is a progressive affair where there is no ‘husband’ and no ‘wife’: we’re equals who are sensitive to each other’s needs. Plus we both look really fetching in our matching blue made-to-measure.
Nor is metro-politics just a British phenomenon. The most powerful man on the globe Barack ‘smokin hot’ Obama is a President several trouser sizes smaller than most American men his age who makes the Free World wait every day on his morning workout. Even the great white male hope of his Republican Party ‘girly man’ hating enemies is a former Cosmo centrefold. In keeping with the dictums of metro-politics, President Obama is something of his own First Lady in front of the camera, always knowing exactly where the most flattering camera angles are – famously winning the Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton because he was much prettier than her, and sending a ‘thrill’ up the leg of straight male commentators.
Which brings us onto an apparently paradoxical aspect of the ‘progressiveness’ of the metro-politicians admiring their reflection in the polls. Whilst they may be more appealing to many women voters than more traditional, plainer politicians, and are often keen to present themselves as ‘post-feminist’, they tend to regard themselves as so sensitive and lovely that they don’t actually need women in their cabinets. Unless they’re a bit camp like Theresa May. Or a bit scary like Hillary Clinton.
Although backbencher Diane Abbot has thrown her bonnet into the ring in the Labour leadership contest, she isn’t regarded as a serious contender – in part because she’s considered ‘too abrasive’. Instead the choice seems to be between David Milliband’s full-wattage metrosexuality and his brother’s Ed’s less dazzling eco-friendly variety.
The smart and nicely turned out money is on David. But either way, Her Majesty’s Opposition will very likely soon be led – like Her Majesty’s Government – by two surprisingly young-looking straight men who openly profess their love and admiration for one another.
A few months back I wrote a piece for The Times arguing that straight couples should be allowed to have civil partnerships. But now that I’ve seen the UK’s first straight civil partnership ceremony in the Rose Garden of Number 10 Downing Street I’m not so sure.
In the romantic Spring sunshine the groom and the groom declared their ‘progressive partnership’ to the world and explained why they had decided to tie the knot with a full coalition – the first since the Second World War – instead of just having a more casual, living-together ‘confidence and supply’ shag-on-demand thing. “We both looked at each other and thought that it was uninspiring,‘’ said Dave Cameron, while Nick Clegg nodded and smiled serenely. Something he will probably have to get used to doing a lot of.
Labour supremo Lord Mandelson’s famous warning, ‘Vote for Nick Clegg and you’ll wake up with David Cameron’, proved only half true. He should have told us: ‘Vote for Clegg and you’ll wake up with Cameron and Clegg giving it to you both ends, no lube and definitely no poppers’. Two super posh, privileged trust-fund kids preaching from lecterns about the sacrifices the rest of us are going to have to make while they shack up in Downing Street every so kindly providing us with the ‘strong and stable government’ that they were so clearly born to deliver.
Although clips from the Leader’s Debates are being played now to contrast the bitter antipathy of the Lib Dem leader and the Tory leader just a week or so ago with their smug love-in now, it was very apparent back then, even as they rowed, that these two had much more in common with one another than with 99% of their audience. It was less X Factor than Blind Date.
Some say that Cameron hasn’t any real interest in Clegg and is just using his, er, mandate, but I think that’s a little unfair. Cameron is very interested indeed in Clegg and will hug and hold him closer than his favourite pajama case. After all, Clegg was fashioned largely as a Lib Dem knock-off of Cameron (and Cameron of course was a Tory knock-off of Labour posh boy Tony Blair). Cameron really does love Clegg — because it’s like looking in the mirror. And because Clegg is the Tory wet that Cameron wants you to mistake him for.
They make a lovely, cloney-sloaney celeb couple, CleggCam, and they’re now living at the top address in the country. Their mothers must be so proud. But my cynical eye can’t help but alight on certain details that don’t augur quite so well for their ‘progressive partnership’. Such as the scary way that Cameron sprang out of No.10 to greet Clegg this morning like a smiley but very hungry trapdoor spider, quickly dragging Clegg into the bowels of Downing Street.
Yes, it was cute the way that they both tried to place their hand on each other’s back, to broadcast to the world they were both ‘versatile’ – but as the big, heavy door to No.10 began to close, it was Cameron’s hand ever-so gallantly, but ever-so firmly in the small of Clegg’s back, pushing him forwards into their ‘new politics’. And probably, after the door slammed shut, over.
by Mark Simpson
It’s difficult not to feel a little sorry for Gordon Brown. Even if you really don’t want to.
I mean, imagine spending over a decade trying to wrest the leadership of the Labour Party – and the UK – from that insufferably posh boy Tony Blair and when you finally succeed the global economy goes down the toilet. Worse – much, much worse – you find yourself at election time appearing on The X Factor faced by not one but two all-singing, all-dancing Baby Blairs. Even posher and prettier than he was.
If the instant polls after last nights final leaders’ debate on TV are to be believed, Cameron and Clegg are in first and second place respectively, with Brown trailing in third, but with only a few points between them. A Tory/Lib-Dem alliance seems likely, with Labour heading to a historic defeat. You the audience seem to have decided that you want to see the super-posh boys from Eton and Westminster get into bed together.
Or perhaps you just decided you don’t want to see Brown any more.
I won’t bother rehashing what was said. Instead I’ll talk about what really mattered: How they looked on my 42 inch LCD TV. Here are my notes, written in my best Simon Cowell:
Cameron has round doll-like eyes, a round doll-like face, and a small doll-like mouth. In fact, he’s a nicely painted Edwardian doll that looks, despite his apparently affable personality, a tad sinister – as if it might be hiding one of those jack-hammer jaws in Alien. This is particularly apparent when one of the other’s is saying something Cameron, watching them out of the corner of his narrowed eyes, doesn’t like.
Clegg looks like the head boy everyone likes. I can’t bear him. I want him to be caught dealing drugs.
Brown looks like death on toast.
Clegg and Cameron both have a high, creamy skin colouring which is incredibly posh in that strawberry blond sort of way. It positively glows privilege. Good genes, good diet and the kind of really restorative sleep that only serious trust funds bring. Cameron’s skin is a little too buffed and hydrated – his chin looks alarmingly shiny. Perhaps though it makes it easier for him to penetrate people’s rib-cages and tear out their vital organs.
Brown doesn’t have skin of course. Brown has pallor and gloom knitted and stretched around his skull – with handy, capacious pockets under the eyes for all his regrets.
Cameron’s teeth are surprisingly snaggly. Perhaps though if you’re really posh you don’t need to have perfect teeth – and Cameron’s small mouth is quite good at hiding them. Clegg’s teeth are better, but there is a distracting stain at the front of his lower set of gnashers. Clearly British dentistry has some way to go to properly catch up with American Presidential politics.
As for Brown’s: I can’t remember. I don’t want to remember. His lower jaw has a disconcerting habit of moving under its own volition, apparently unconnected to his head. Everyone of course has made fun of his bleached rictus smile so I won’t.
Dame Cameron’s hair is a helmet of streamlined terror. So strongly fixed in place it pulls his face backwards like someone experiencing G force.
Clegg’s cute hair makes you want to reach out and ruffle it. And I think that’s the intended effect. My eye keeps being drawn to a tiny lick in the middle of his fringe that has been oh-so-carefully teased forwards like a comma. Like an embryonic kiss-curl. What did it mean? What was it for? A visual reminder that Clegg was in the centre of politics? A trick to break up his Tefal forehead on our widescreen TVs? Or is this part of the carefully contrived hands-in-pockets casualness of Cleggy? (I suspect the latter.)
Brown’s hair looked like a tabby cat that had been through the boil-wash-dry cycle on Gillian Duffy’s washing machine. Twice.
Cameron’s ears are even more streamlined than his hair. They’re not so much flush to his skull as internal. Clegg’s stick out the right amount and aren’t too big. Prep school ears. Neither of them appear to be troubled by anything so vulgar as earlobes.
Brown on the other hand has earlobes that appear to run all the way around the outside of his ears. Ears so vast and parabolic they should really be part of the SETI project.
Cameron wears a suit so well-made, so expensive and so New Tory that it sucks in all the light from around him. Making his chin even shinier. His shirt is simply divine. You can almost smell the Irish linen dampening slightly against his polished, scented, pampered and privileged body.
Clegg’s suit is nice too, but is ostentatiously less expensive than Cameron’s. And a shirt that doesn’t quite fit his neck. But again, this is probably part of Clegg’s attempt to portray himself as a grammar school boy, rather than a Westminster old boy who actually has much more in common with Dame Cameron than with 99% of the viewers.
Brown meanwhile wore his undertaker outfit that he’d slept in the night before. On Gillian Duffy’s front-room floor.