Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Age of Distraction

If, as I do, you believe that, under the influence of the Murdoch press, a preoccupation with the superficial has developed in the last decades in Britain, then ultimately you have to ask yourself what it has done to the country's politics.

Looking at the country's two most recent elected leaders - Blair and Cameron - and comparing them to failed aspirants for the job - Gordon Brown, William Hague, Michael Howard - and also to successful candidates from the time before the rise of Murdoch glitter - Harold Wilson, Ted Heath, even the rather drab early version of M. Thatcher - it is not impossible to conclude that the voting public have been gulled into believing that looking bright and shiny on the TV screen is a leader's most vital skill.

I thought of this yesterday, when William Hague's face appeared briefly on our television screen. I suspect Hague is more intelligent, more principled, more deeply read than Cameron ever will be. Once upon a time, he would probably have been a successful leader. Now though, the public obsession with celebrity and glamour seems to rule out a person with a somewhat lacklustre image like his.

For Hague does not possess the vigilant charm of a Blair or Cameron, nor does he have Cameron's slightly spivvy knack of looking brand new, as if freshly unwrapped from a cellophane bag each morning. Personally, I distrust the kind of smooth plausibility that both Blair and Cameron project but, thanks to the spread of Murdoch's brand of surface-focussed journalism, the majority of people have been persuaded that glossiness matters. An appetite for men of substance as been replaced with a taste for figures stuffed with nothing but PR.

While we're on the subject of Cameron, incidentally, I did like Simon Hoggart's anecdote in the Spectator about an encounter between the UK Prime Minister and the Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell, who persistently draws Cameron with a condom over his head. Cameron taxed Bell about this annoying - at least for him - habit. Bell said he wasn't planning to remove the condom. Cameron, visibly irritated apparently, left the conversation with these parting words: 'You know, it is possible to push a condom too far.'

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