Magazine article The Spectator

Long Life: Alexander Chancellor

Magazine article The Spectator

Long Life: Alexander Chancellor

Article excerpt

For a politician to draw attention to his own deficiencies is a desperate attempt to curry favour with the electorate that has been tried before with dismal consequences. The most famous case is that of the former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith who, at his 2002 party conference, addressed the problem of his dullness as a political performer by saying that no one should 'underestimate the determination of a quiet man'. One result was that Labour backbenchers would raise a finger to their lips and say 'shush' whenever this croaky-voiced man was speaking in the House of Commons. He tried to sound tougher at the next year's Conservative conference by saying that 'the quiet man is here to stay, and he's turning up the volume'; but this made him look even sillier and only hastened his overthrow as party chief.

Ed Miliband did something similar when he confronted his wretched personal ratings in the opinion polls by admitting to looking weird and being useless at photo opportunities. But he tried to make these deficiencies seem like virtues by suggesting that he was bravely standing up against a 'showbiz' culture that was creating disillusionment with politics today. 'I am not from central casting,' he said. 'You can find people who are more square-jawed, more chiselled, look less like Wallace. You could probably even find people who look better eating a bacon sandwich. If you want the politician from central casting, it's not me, it's the other guy.' The other guy, David Cameron, was a master of presentation, of the photo-op; he, on the other hand, was a man of principle, one who cared about people, for whom good policies were all that mattered. It was inevitable, therefore, that some should ask why he had hired a voice coach, a 'posture' adviser, an 'empathy' expert and an American spin doctor.

Self-deprecation can work. Ronald Reagan was a master of it. But when he said, 'It's true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure, why take the chance?', he wasn't drawing attention to a perceived defect but re-enforcing a much-loved popular image. It wasn't actually true that he was idle -- his diaries show that he worked very hard -- but Americans warmed to the idea of a relaxed, easygoing man in the White House; it made them feel comfortable and safe. Reagan may in some small respects have been a bit of a fraud, but he was basically authentic; and authenticity is surely the quality that a successful leader must have. …

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