Apologists for Gordon Brown insist that there is more than one of him. For me, one is more than enough, but I agree there are many Browns: firebrand Brown, rugger-bugger Brown, entertaining in private Brown and of late, I’ll say or do anything to stay in power and I have no style but lots of substance Brown.
This is no more than the human condition. We are all to greater and lesser extents the owners of multiple personality and behavioural facets – how could there be double standards otherwise?
Ecologists have cars, eat meat and fly on aeroplanes – because it’s more convenient and can be enjoyable. Farmers practise organic methods, but grow the wrong stuff because it’s more profitable than raising chickens. Doctors insist on draconian drinking recommendations, but have the highest alcoholism rate. MPs enter Parliament to do good, discover they can’t, and so have affairs and/or fiddle expenses as a form of comfort.
I’m as bad as anyone. I give a lot of free time to causes without payment, but am not above taking lucrative freelance jobs I know to be largely pointless. I preach considered strategy to the world, and tackle many jobs in the most impetuous and disorganised manner. I deplore obesity, but display greed at many tables.
The British media either don’t accept this, and thus become sanctimonious (Guardian, Independent, Mail) – or both accept and exploit it (Times, Sun, Heat). I think it is quite right for our media set to keep demonstrating that Lord Mandelson is degenerate, Gordon Brown a serial liar, David Cameron a lightweight and Nick Clegg not all he seems. Dacre’s Mail stooped to the gutter on its way to the sewers in the last regard earlier this week, but the Telegraph pointing out glaring irregularities in LibDem donation procedures is fair game – if that Party is being hypocritical about its professed ethics.
But the search for contradiction and the demand for detail by the media led politicians first of all to get media training – surely the most awful term in the world after ethnic cleansing – and then to go beyond spin into a tiresome routine of non-stop evasion of any and every question. Now all this obssessive fear of the media is leading the Westminster elite towards telling even more lies, fiddling numbers, and offering outrageously unacceptable interpretations of data they don’t want to accept.
Having achieved this Frankenstein result, the media want it both ways: on the one hand it’s ‘look at him – just another slippery Minister’; but when another Minister comes right out and says what he or she thinks, it’s ‘a gaffe’. The only MPs with the character and truculence to rise above this media jam-on-it attitude in recent years have been Dennis Skinner, Ken Clarke, Vince Cable, Kate Hoey and David Davies. It’s probably why they earn so much respect – but the lesson is not learned by either journalists or other legislators.
I remain bored with – and feel vaguely nauseous watching – the Leaders’ TV debates because none of the trio is projecting the complex personality they really are. Instead, all three mouth obviously rehearsed remarks of a genre fed to them by ‘coaches’. “I was bathing my young sons” (Brown – ‘I’m normal really’) “I was talking to a black man in Plymouth (Cameron -‘I’m not an Eton toff or a racist’) and “When I was negotiating trade deals with the Soviet Union” (Clegg – ‘I’ve been around a bit, I’ve done commercial, I’m a big hitter’). This is script-signalling plonkier than anything the lads writing Eastenders could come up with.
I watched Ruby Wax the week before last on Andrew Marr, and while I think her very amusing with clever observations about people and life, she too is a media coach these days. “Well” she told a clearly exasperated Marr, “You have to be yourself but just, like, avoid the obvious mistakes”. Sorry Ms Wax, but real life isn’t like that, and media consultants will always put safety before reality. Yet more risk aversion is the last thing we need right now – but it is precisely what we are getting in this election.
All of us are curate’s eggs; but I say ‘better a curate’s egg in charge than a sociopath skilled in the art of hiding his madness’. John Kennedy liked a lot of sex, but he inspired the West when we all needed it. Margaret Thatcher was a controlling old bat, but she saved the sovereignty of Parliament from malign Union dictators. Churchill was a misogynist drunk, but he stiffened the spine of those who would have caved in to Hitler. Reagan wasn’t the sharpest card in the pack, but he seized the Rejkyavik opportunity when his aides smelt a trick.
I could forgive Peter Mandelson all his bitchy rent-boy tendencies if I thought there was any evidence that he really wanted the greatest happiness of the greatest number in a revived British culture. But this is so obviously not the case, he is quite rightly targeted by all shades of the British media. Mandy is the living proof that sometimes, there are witch hunts because the prey is indeed a witch.
That point made, it is a sobering thought that – had the power of The New York Times, The Guardian, The Times, and The Washington Post proved decisive at key points over the last seventy years – JFK would’ve lost to Nixon, the TUC would be in Buckingham Palace, Hitler would’ve won the War, and the Soviet Union wouldn’t have run out of money.
With that as a track record, it behoves the media pack to turn the odd blind eye to human frailty – and focus more on supporting those with fresh ideas, and the genuine bottle required to get us out of this cultural mess.