I have had a fair amount of feedback from yesterday’s blog about the appalling image of the current Labour Party leadership.
One thing I have not been able to figure out is how the Conservative Party has successfully re-imaged at least two of its failed former party leaders.
John Major had a very large and very under-underrated role in bringing a 30-year stretch of Irish Troubles to an (almost) end (or at least to a healthy pause). Tony Blair took the credit but it was John Major who set all the necessaries in place and started everything rolling along. Unfortunately for him, as Prime Minister, he had the image of a weak, grey man out of control of the economic events buffeting him and the accusations of tabloid sleaze swirling round his colleagues.
Yet, just a few years later, he had been turned into an amiable, cricket-loving uncle figure and now he has been transformed yet again, this time into an elder statesman – a wise advisor with a steady pair of political hands.
Almost more staggering was the transformation of William Hague from simultaneously too-young and too-bald laughing stock into the wise semi-Churchillian muse he always aspired to be – and now into a calm, respected Foreign Secretary. I would not be surprised to see him ‘do another Churchill’ in a few years time and return to lead the party or even the country.
A third failed Conservative Party leader (there have been an awful lot of them) Michael Howard seemed to be brilliantly and terminally characterised by a venomous Ann Widdecombe as having “something of the night about him”. But now, when he occasionally pops up on TV, he seems less like a political vampire than an amiable man with a humorous twinkle in his eye and a jolly chortle. Though I would still not trust him after dark in a gothic mansion.
Even Ian Duncan Smith, a man for whom the word ‘bland’ seems too glitzy a description, has re-appeared on our screens of late not seeming too definitively dull. I think, with him, though, even the Conservative Party’s best spin doctors are on to a semi-loser.
Compare these mostly successful Conservative image-changes to the Labour Party’s PR failure with their ex-leaders.
Neil Kinnock still comes across as a charming, well-meaning Welsh windbag, simultaneously over-erudite and approaching near air-headedness. I can imagine him banging his head in Wayne’s World.
Tony Blair is now seen as the bullshit artist he always was: a man endlessly prepared to duck, dodge, dive, weave, spin and shit on others – and allow others to die for his principles – always smugly secure in the knowledge that his opinion is right because he and God work as a double act.
That’s two former leaders whom the Labour Party has been unable to re-image.
And then there is the sad case of Gordon Brown who is still in that nether region where he is too embarrassed to pop his head above the parapet and everyone else is too embarrassed to talk about him.
If Anna Nicole Smith’s life can be turned into an opera (as it just has been for the Royal Opera House), then Gordon Brown’s story cannot be far behind. It cries out for loud Wagnerian music to accompany one of the great political and personal tragedies of the last 50 years.
The story of a man with deeply-held socialist principles and a lust for power who had to wait ten years watching superficial socialist pretender Tony Blair – all style and no substance – get plaudits… then, after waiting that long decade of labyrinthine, Machiavellian, soul-destroying plotting, he eventually gets the powerful job he always knew he deserved and was promised… only to find the whole edifice comes crumbling down around him. And, ironically, the one thing he was always lauded for – his sure touch on the Economy – is one of the main causes of his downfall. That and an accidentally-recorded aside about an ordinary woman he casually called a racist on an apparently insignificant visit to the provinces.
It is like James Cagney at the end of White Heat.
Gordon Brown – he finally got to the top of the world and it blew right up in his face
If that is not meat for an opera, I don’t know what is.