Posted by Tania Kindersley.
I am terribly sorry about this picture. It is really not what you want on a Friday. You are thinking of the weekend; of lying in, eating fried eggs for breakfast, maybe catching a matinee. You might be planning to read an improving book or do some pruning. The last thing you want to see is that shining red face staring out at you. I am afraid, though, that I must use it for illustrative purposes.
You see, I have just discovered that Damien McBride is 34 years old. I know. THIRTY-FOUR. I assumed he was hitting fifty. What has he done to himself?
What is really fascinating to me is that while every single newspaper took great care to publish the age of the transcendent Susan Boyle, no one until today has mentioned McBride's age, although it is much more startling. (Are those gin blossoms I see?) And no one, apart from the brilliantly caustic Marina Hyde over at The Guardian, has talked of his physical appearance. Compare this to the evisceration of Ms Boyle - she might have a singing voice that brings tears to the eyes, but the newspapers are still having the vapours over the fact that she has the temerity to appear 'frumpy'.
McBride worked for a government which has been talking a great deal of obesity and something called 'wellness', which basically means encouraging people to eat vegetables and lay off the hard stuff so that they don't cost the poor old NHS too much money. It is a perfectly sensible idea of prevention - Sarah, my co-writer on Backwards, feels so strongly about this that she thinks there should be a supertax on sugar. I once floated the idea that green vegetables should be subsidised, so that they are not only available to the middle-classes (have you seen the price of watercress lately?). But my point is that Mr McBride looks like a poster boy for unwellness; he appears to be only two Macburgers away from a serious infarction.
Maybe this doesn't really matter. Too much blatant animal health can be alarming. Sometimes those little Miliband boys look so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed that I have to put on my dark glasses. If Susan Boyle has taught us anything, it is that the book and the cover often have no relation to each other. (Although by all accounts Mr McBride's book was a rather nasty read.) But there is something deeply disturbing about that preternaturally aged face, the scarlet cheeks, the sheen of unhealth. You see, I'm a Labour girl through and through. I've never voted for any other party. And, like a faltering football team, they have put their supporters through a lot in the last nine years - dodgy dossiers, double-speak, spin, being perfectly horrible to asylum seekers, wasting unimaginable amounts of money on IT systems that do not work. The whole point of the Left is that it is supposed to be kinder and gentler than the tough social darwinists of the traditional Right. It would not stigmatise the poor, the single mothers, the lesbians and gays; it would not abandon the weaker elements of society, leaving them clinging to the wreckage. That was my last best hope. I would sometimes rather be romantic and wrong than ruthless and right. Now everything is turning upside down: Labour has turned into the nasty party, while many Conservatives appear reasonable and well-mannered.
Maybe what is so disturbing about Damien McBride emerging from his bunker is that he looks like the quintessence of nastiness. You don't get to look fifteen years older than you actually are by harbouring idealistic ideas about making the world a better place. It is as if the darkness of his dark arts are written all over his face - the unhealthiness of his soul reflected in the unhealthiness of his complexion, the cynicism towards his fellow humans glinting through his little squinty eyes.
I might be having a slightly excessive reaction to all this. It has been known to happen. I am sure that there are plenty of unhealthy-looking people who are perfectly pure of heart; there must be bigots and tyrants who brush up beautifully. It's not an exact science. But there is something in that florid face that makes me feel I am hanging onto my faith in politics by my fingernails.