Friday, May 11, 2007

Quick! Act natural!


Since he had his teeth whitened and straightened, you hardly see Gordon Brown without a grin stitched all over his face. Clearly aware of his reputation as the gloomiest thing to come out of Scotland since salted porridge, the Chancellor has been making strenuous efforts to acquire the same sort of lightness of touch that Blair retained right up to the end. References to his personal failings, from 'character flaws' right the way up to 'Stalinist tendencies' haven't helped matters - the public image is one of a nail-biting, grudge-bearing obsessive.

So we have been treated to an extended 'get to know you' session. He has a near-permanent smile on his face, and has been ready and even eager to talk about his family life and personal tragedies, such as the loss of his first child - again referred to during his campaign launch. Simultaneously, of course, the spin has been put out that the new Brown regime will be a new world devoid of such shallow fripperies. There's something almost zen about this: an aggressive spin policy to show that in the future there will be no spin.

It's also missing the point. The reason Blair (and Cameron) have an easy rapport with the press and the public is because they are, inherently, beau dans ses peaux - at ease with themselves. it's the same reason that John Major had a difficult relationship with the press. Brown is the epitome of a man ill at ease with himself - look at the tortured body language and the mangled fingernails. Grinning widely and talking about your dead child - however affectingly - is not enough to transmogrify yourself into a man comfortable with himself. In fact, since we are told so often that the Chancellor is intensely private, and hates discussing family matters, it might make him less comfortable.

Leaving the last word with a character who seemed intensely comfortable with who she was, Mrs Thatcher said (about power as it happens, but it applies more widely) "Having power is like being a lady, the louder one protests that one is, the less likely is it to be the case." There is, after all, something profoundly odd about anyone protesting loudly about how normal he is.

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