There are some eras in history when huge figures arise – sometimes in response to major events, and just as often because they were already near the centre of power. Napoleon is a classic example of the former, Churchill of the latter. But it looks like this epoch – packed as it already is with momentous change – is going to have to make do without them.
This epoch, by the way, I think of now as having begun in about 1989: when Baroness Thatcher was about to fall upon her Poll Tax, and the USSR collapsed almost without warning after the brief and brave Glasnost of Mikhail Gorbachev. This was shortly after the start of the destructive volcano formerly known in the banking community as Big Bang. Since then we have seen much of mice, but little of men…..and even less of women.
The old adage has it that some people have greatness thrust upon them. This happened to Thatcher’s successor John Major: he was carefully fitted for a suit of soundproofed armour, but collapsed rather quickly under the weight of it.
Gordon Brown, by contrast, thrust greatness upon himself, but nobody believed him. He too had a nervous breakdown, following a short run playing a role in which, for the life of him, he couldn’t remember the lines.
Pretty much everyone else has tried hard during each and every day in Office since then to hide the fact that it’s all been a dreadful mistake, and they should really be delivering bread. We’ve had George W Bush, a man who lived in the shadow of his father – despite the fact that Bush Sr didn’t have one. Nicolas Sarkozy was the enfant terrible who turned into a sort of midget Baroness Blair. Silvio Berlusconi in turn is the chap who should really be extorting protection money from the guys who deliver bread.
In Britain we have the ConDemned Coalition, led by David Cameron. This is a bloke who can’t tell Shiite from Turkey, or Gaza from Gelsenkirchen. He’s unable to discern the difference between Coulson and crook, or Clegg from klutz. As the Jews might remark, he may be a chamelion – but mainly he’s a schlemiel.
Australia suddenly found itself in possession of a Prime Minister called Julia Gillard earlier this year, a Pom who immigrated in her childhood and then sank to the top in politics. So lacking in appeal was she, a dead heat with a bloke who wears odd swimming trunks with budgies in them was the best she could manage. Now she has somehow forced her way back in through the tradesman’s entrance, and will represent Australia in the years of hardship ahead. God Help Australia.
The most tragic mousehole must nevertheless be the USA. Too many Brits take great pleasure in America’s occasionally confused navel-gazing, but I’m not one of them. The US elite must be one of the dumbest on the planet, but this really isn’t true of the ordinary citizen who – above a certain age – is as courteous and generous as anyone you’ll meet. The very fact that four out of five of them don’t have a passport should suggest that they wish very few foreigners any harm….especially considering how many travellers in previous decades thought of a tank as a passport. I was particularly encouraged to see how few recruits Pastor-Man got in his quest for an army of Sturmers ready to burn books.
But boy are they being short-changed by the Great Black Hope. A British newspaper – the Times I think – remarked with archetypal understatement recently, “Mr Obama is not the man he told us he was”. It’s a tribute to the American Presidential system that whereas in the UK we had to put up with ten years of Blair, substance-free Obama will be out after four.
This isn’t the gratuitous criticism of somebody jumping on a Right-wing bandwagon. The night of Obama’s victory rally, I ran a piece on nby headed ‘Where’s the Beef?’ I’m still asking. For those of us who lived through three American assassinations in the 1960s, it seems close to obscene now that Barack Obama is the political inheritor of all that idealistic suffering. But somehow, between Martin Luther King and the current President, principles were replaced by principals: the man at the top who must be lauded and admired, regardless of ability or experience. Under such a system of developing leaders, we are doomed to be disappointed in perpetuity.
This applies universally, rather than just in the States. I believe it is largely the result of Establishment business interest groups choosing mice they can control. It is time once again to demand a system wherein the people choose heroes and heroines we can look up to – rather than rodents who look down on us.