Magazine article The Spectator

Sweat Shock

Magazine article The Spectator

Sweat Shock

Article excerpt

Poor Charles Kennedy. These days it is a punishable offence to be seen to perspire in public. (And yes, that's right - Lib Dems and Tories perspire, Old Labour sweats - and New Labour just, oh, you know, glows.)

The beads of distilled Highland perspiration were right there in our morning newspapers, alongside 500 or so words bleeding faux-concern or simple glee. Just what is the matter with Charlie? Is it the drink? You do know about his drink 'problem', don't you? Or is the whole stress thing - the business of running a fairly important political party and having to do stuff like discuss policy with Norman Baker, or listen to Lembit Opik playing his guitar - getting to him? Is it sapping his health? Is he fit for public office? 'Gaunt, pale and perspiring,' wrote Greg Hurst in the Times. The Independent, rather charitably, put it all down to stage fright. And the Guardian's, Sarah Hall wrote, '[Kennedy] had clearly suffered some sort of violent sickness; he sounded hoarse and, during the 35-minute speech, mopped his brow three times.' (My italics.)

Thrice! Mobilise those journo-docs for a few hundred more words on what sort of illness could possibly provoke a man to mop his brow three times in little more than half an hour. Beriberi? Ebola? Preeclampsia? The DTs?

Whatever it is that ails Charlie should, by extension, metaphorically ail all of us. It is part of the same disease which has seen Michael Howard attempt to become cuddly and lovable and caring, even without sorting out those weird vowels; it has transformed Michael Portillo from a virulent Eurosceptical soi-disant member of the SAS into a warm, beaming New Man very much in touch with his feminine side. And of course there's Mr Blair: 'Hey, look, I have to make difficult decisions, OK? And I can do that. But I'm just a normal regular guy, right, and I like playing the guitar and listening to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.'

Charlie's valiant attempt to convince us all that he was wholly normal and not a) ill or b) pissed should not be dismissed as trivial, even though it patently is trivial.

I'm sorry for that apparent contradiction. The beads of sweat are lining up like tiny WMD bombs along my forehead, and the bottle of Jack Daniel's is grinning down from a shelf above the fridge. And yes, I know, it's only 10.30 in the morning. But I haven't lost my grip just yet. What I mean to say is that Charlie's perspiration is, of course, of no political import whatsoever and is the stuff of trivia. But his attempts to tell us that he is not really perspiring, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, both photographic and via intense and conscientious eyewitness reportage reporters transfixed by those globules, as if they were the first whiffs of grey smoke from the Vatican or sudden tracer fire in some new war against another bunch of Arabs by contrast, is quite significant. Because to perspire so, as Charlie did, is redolent of a lifestyle - or a constitution - which is politically abnormal. And for some reason it is assumed that we, the electorate, do not wish the politically abnormal to lead us. We want the normal to lead us. We do not want the ill or the pissed or the troubled. We want physical and mental conformity.

The sum total of Charlie's crimes against political normality is that a) he is known to like a drink and b) he had the misfortune to be 'violently' ill recently. …

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