Magazine article The Spectator

Personalities of 1997

Magazine article The Spectator

Personalities of 1997

Article excerpt

Now that it is election year, let us hope that voters will finally be allowed to concentrate on the personalities rather than the issues. Readers may ask, shouldn't that be the other way about; accustomed as they are to the pieties which they are fed by parties, press and pulpits? Is it not issues we are all supposed to concentrate on rather than personalities?

Issues are indeed what we are all supposed to concentrate on. But we never do. Nor do the pious who tell us we should. They are as gripped by personalities as the rest of us; more so, even. This is especially so of 'new' Labour; a cause entirely to do with a personality - Mr Blair's. Take away Mr Blai, and there would be no New Labour to interest anyone. Mr Peter Mandelson and his spin doctors could hardly attract voters on their own. They need a more widely attractive personality through whom to work their will to power. They think they have it with Mr Blair. If the opinion polls are right, they are right too. Mr Blair will become prime minister. Mr Mandelson and his spinners will be rewarded, at least until they prove a liability to Mr Blair, with even more stimulating jobs.

So Mr Major and the designers of Conservative billboards are entitled to emphasise Mr Blair's personality since Mr Blair and the Blairites have done so already. Actually, Mr Major's New Year offensive has not solely been directed at Mr Blair's personality. The Prime Minister's New Year message to constituency chairmen says something or other about voters being unwise to `risk a future with an untried, unrealistic alternative'. We do not suggest that our readers should study the wording of party leaders' New Year messages; New Year should be a time for jollier forms of conspicuous consumption. But the quoted passage could be taken to refer to Mr Blair's party as much as Mr Blair's personality.

Of course parties and spin doctors have no objection to discussion of 'personalities' as such. As we say, Labour and Mr Mandelson have done little else but extol Mr Blair's. But few of us have personalities which present themselves to others as only good or only bad. It is the presentation to others of the bad bits of their leaders' personalities that party managers object to. Since he became leader, Mr Blair's personality has presented itself to most of us as agreeable. There is no reason to suppose that he is not the Christian gentleman he appears to be. But lately, there have been fears that he is 'smarmy', whatever that may mean. His spin doctors have become worried about that. …

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