Posted by Tania Kindersley.
It has become fashionable to trot out the trope: personality does not matter, let's get to the substance. Everyone nods and clears their throat and goes rhubarb rhubarb as if this is just so damn true that no more words are necessary.
So what if Gordon throws telephones at secretaries, and Dave is a bit posh, and that other fellow said something about shagging thirty women? It's the deficit that counts.
Oddly, this morning, I find myself saying What. I suddenly think it matters like hell. We are in an awful lot of trouble in this country, and even though I hate jingoism, and know it is categorically a Good Thing that Britannia no longer rules the waves, I would like dear old Blighty to be able to hold her head up in public. Call me old-fashioned, but I would like the young people to have jobs. I would be awfully happy if only the children could read. I would die of joy if someone would come along and save the public libraries.
I think the reason that the pundits tend to dismiss the personality issue is because of sex. Yes, my darlings, you read that right. Look, look, everybody says, at JFK with his thousands of women, and Gladstone bringing the ladies of the street home for tea with his wife, and Lloyd George with his mistress. (You don't have to look at Bill and Monica, because that is just too nasty for a blameless Thursday.) They were all great leaders, despite their blatant flaws. The rider goes: if we had had the internet and the tabloids then they would not have been elected dog-catcher.
Well, yes, except I think there is a sand in the eyes thing going on here. I do judge infidelity to be a defect, but it is not the only mark of a person. It is not the most important defining feature. George W Bush appears to have been marvellously faithful to poor Laura, but I do not think he was a fine man. He was spoilt, intellectually lazy, excessively parti pris, and pig-headed. Kennedy, while not the gilded saint of Camelot myth, was, when he was not catting around, brave, stoic, loyal and oddly grown up. I say oddly, because the having of all the women is such a childish give it to me now trait. But when the chips were down, he took responsibility for his actions, which is the kite mark of an adult. He shouldered the blame for the Bay of Pigs, when he could have thrown any number of subordinates to the wolves. He stared down the rabid generals during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and quite possibly did literally save the world, which is not something you see every day. One of the reasons I keep faith with President Obama is that I think he has character. He, too, has a lovely tendency to take responsibility for mistakes; 'I screwed up,' was one of the earliest and most memorable things he said in his presidency; no ifs or buts or it was really the other fellow. He is patient, thoughtful, resilient and still keeps his sense of humour when everyone about him is losing theirs.
Gordon Brown did two things yesterday which make me wonder very much about his character. He stood up in the House of Commons, denied that the troops in Afghanistan were ever short of kit or helicopters, and then, in the very same breath, blamed the generals. Not only did he refute something that twenty different sources say is true, but he said it was nothing to do with him, guv. Then he went on Channel Four News and refused to answer any of nice Gary Gibbon's perfectly reasonable questions. Instead, he did that strange chewing thing with his mouth, as if he had just swallowed a handful of bees, and, even worse, kept remembering to break out a phoney smile. You could almost see him remembering the pollsters' advice: grin, Gordon, the voters like a happy warrior.
Oh, and just to cap it all off, he walked straight past a voter who was trying to ask him about schools, despite the fact that he has been banging on about how he is going to be transparent and accessible and get out and meet the public, because he is an 'ordinary middle class' person, just like the rest of us. As he strode away, he might as well have said: I am on the side of the people, until they start asking awkward questions.
People say that Brown can be very funny and nice in life. Years ago, I met someone who worked for him. 'Oh, I love Gordon,' the operative said, with as much swoon as if he were talking about Ava Gardner. I am perfectly certain that he would never cheat on his charming wife. But I think that he has a fatal crack in his character, because, in his world, nothing is ever his fault. The selling of the gold at rock bottom prices was not his fault; someone told him to do it. The trashing of the pensions was not his fault, for the same reason. The piling up of record debt was not his fault; it was the global meltdown. The refusal to pay for helicopters was not his fault; the generals made the decisions.
I believe in government. I believe in the power of politics to do good things. But I do not believe in Gordon Brown. Policies matter, but the people who implement them matter too. Is it too much to ask for someone to have the character to stand up and say the buck stops with me?
(Photograph by Getty Images.)