Thursday, 8 April 2010

In which character matters

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Gordon Brown

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.)


  1. Bravo!!!!!! Very well said a lot of things that need to be said!!!!!

  2. Tania you'd be fantastic on Question Time - they could use a woman like you on the panel. Keep up the good work with the election coverage - we need a voice who can sift through the madness of the whole thing. And your post of the video of Obama playing basketball shows exactly what our two major party leaders are missing - charisma, humour and humility. Your right, character counts for a lot!

  3. Oh you are both so kind. Am a little fretful that too much politics might tip the blog over into psephological madness and drive the dear readers nuts, but it is all I can think about at the moment. You are lovely to bear with me.

  4. You have said so much of what I have been thinking for so long I want to give you an enormous hug and present you with a cherry cake.
    Please don't apologise for the politics, your blog is a daily joy in all it's forms, I'm so *thankful* to have recently found it after buying a copy of 'Backwards...' and being a fan of your wonderful books since my late darling Mum bought me 'Goodbye Johnny Thunders' when I was 19 and heartbroken.
    Kiss those beautiful dogs for me and have a lovely what's-left-of Thursday.
    Anne xxx

  5. Anna - Your kind comment could not have come at a better time. I just discovered that a piece I wrote for one of the newspapers was spiked, and I was feeling very grumpy after rushing for a hard deadline, so your lovely words could not have come at a more perfect moment. I am all cheered up now.

    Amazed you have read Thunders. I wrote it when I too was heartbroken, and still have a soft spot for it, after all these years.

  6. I've been reading your blog for ages (I'm not usually one to comment though) and I just wanted to say how much I appreciate your political posts like this one.

    I don't really follow politics that closely and I'm finding myself very confused about how to vote this time so it's helpful to be able to read the opinion of someone who I have found to be intelligent and insightful.

    Thank you and please don't stop!


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