Poor old ugly duckling

I’ve been following the English election campaigns with interest. There’s the novelty, for them, of the pre-election debate and the distinct possibility now of a hung parliament with three contenders virtually level pegging.

The loser in all this is likely to be the incumbent leader, Labour‘s Gordon Brown. He’s an interesting character, though it seems to many he is just plain dull. Following on from a charismatic leader like Tony Blair it’s not surprising he comes of second best in the personality stakes. And in truth he doesn’t come across as the most scintillating of characters – and yet I find myself liking him in some small way. Perhaps it’s my Australian sympathy for unfavoured and roundly dissed underdog that has me feeling this way, but I can’t shake it.

Is he hangdog? Well yes, he appears so, but does that really matter? The answer of course in this media age is that it does, greatly, though not entirely. Gordon Brown is an ugly duckling no matter how you look at him. He’s stiff, awkward, he has what I think of as an English reticence so unbecoming for an ambitious politician. He’s lumpy in his suits and looks like a suburban bank manager. He has the intellectual goods but not the style to sell what he has to offer. He’s one duckling not about to become a swan.

Nor is he likely to retain his job. He trails in the polls and it’s hard to see, outside of some complex deal, how he can remain prime minister after the election. This has been a long time coming, but the most recent setback seems to have finished off.

Sitting here in Oz it seems quite comical. Pressing the flesh one day he comes up against a formidable elderly woman who gives a piece of her mind about a favourite topic wherever you go: immigration. Back in the car, he exclaims at the bigot she was – not realising that he had a mic still pinned to his lapel and that every word was going to the media.

A predictable storm erupts and he rushes back to make his grovelling apologies to the offended voter. That’s his mistake I think.

I often wonder at the psychology, dumb as it often seems, of the markets. Well, electorates are not much better. To me, this is a silly story that would have no impact on how I vote. He’s entitled to an opinion after all, even if that’s frowned upon these days. And though doubtless someone’s beloved granny the old woman followed a familiar and bigoted script. His error, I think, was to attempt to redress what he perceived as a fatal blow to his campaign. To rush back and to make a plainly hypocritical apology only made things worse in my book.

I don’t know about the Poms, but I know in Oz we would likely accept what happened at face value. Sure there would be a bit of hue and cry and the tabloids would predictably rush to make news of it, but to the average joe in the street it would be good for a wry smile and the acknowledgement, yeah, he was right. A little bit of honesty is refreshing, particularly in a strictly programmed pollie.

What we wouldn’t tolerate is the grovelling backtrack. No-one likes to see that in their prospective leader, especially when it is so transparently politically motivated. Honesty, a little bit of humility, well sure, but also the strength to hold true, not just to what you believe, but also to who you are. In this case, it would have been appropriate to express some regret that his comments went public, and to publicly apologise for the unintended offence – that’s fair I think. To rush back to her and apologise on bended knee made a circus of it.

Poor old Gordon Brown, unless something happens his time is over.

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