Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Fat is a Political Issue

Steve Ladyman rightly identified Alan Johnson (pictured) as a man who could make an excellent Leader of the Labour Party. The quality of the man is shown in Alan's view of his propects of leading the Labour Party

"There is a role for me to play but we need to come back and regroup, reform. That is a big job - for five years in Opposition and however long after that. It is a 13 or 14 year job and I just think my talents are best served supporting whoever gets that job rather than going for it myself. It's probably best if the baby boomers do something else, particularly as we have such an exceptional pool of talent there. I think David (Miliband) is the best."

I hope all possible contenders will look at how they can serve the best interests of the Labour Party as Alan Johnson wisely has. As everybody says Labour needs a proper contest with several candidates. John McDonnell will fail to secure enough nominations, but will strive to represent the further left end of the Labour Party. For the rest of the possible candidates John Cruddas, Ed Miliband, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, David Miliband and Ed Balls all bring different qualities. Harriet Harman and Alastair Darling would be welcome if they change their minds on standing in the contest.

There's a new criterion for candidates to consider when putting themselves forward. John Mann MP identified this saying

"I think it would be extremely important that we have a TV leadership debate between the candidates," he said. "For better or for worse that is one of the things a party leader is going to need to do in the future, and I think that it would open it out to the wider public, including the wider membership. And I think that is essential."

He's perceptive even though this makes for a shallow test.

You dear reader, like me are probably interested in politics and vote in every election. Yet in general elections two thirds of people vote, whereas in local elections only about a third of the population do. Amongst this third of the poulation who tend to vote in General elections but not local elections, there are some who come to their voting decision largely on the basis of events like the television debates. Would that it were tax, education or health policy, but knock on enough doors and you will find this is not always the case. On opinion polling of Radio 4 listeners to the leadership television debates Gordon Brown's performance was always higher than polling of television viewers.

It is unfair that his appearance and especially his jowls, should reduce his performance rating by a few percentage points. Nonetheless the genie is out of the bottle, and television debates will become the norm. So all political parties now need to reconsider whether at least for their leaders,

"Politics can be showbusiness for ugly people"

as Jay Leno quipped.

This General Election showed how even a percentage point here or there can make all the difference. 2% more votes for Labour and there would probably not be Prime Minister Cameron. So does this mean that highly able people like Liam Byrne may not be able to reach the highest post because they are balding? Regrettably, I think the more Presidential or X-factor style of British politics means this may now be the case.

For all the possible candidates for Labour Leader above, it is something they need to consider. When I was young in the 1970s I remember a cartoon I think in the Observer which played on the fact that Wilson, Healey, Callaghan and most of the leading Labour figures were portly, whereas Tony Benn was thin. Wilson saying to Benn in the cartoon that you couldn't get on in politics if you were wedge shaped, punning on Wedgwood-Benn. Now we see politics turned around in a few decades, so that obesity is less acceptable.

Fortunately, almost all Labour's propspective candidates will look good on television. And for Ed Balls if he is deciding to run, my sincere and comradely advice would be that he spends more time in the gym, and recaptures the days when less work and family commitments meant he played football regularly.

Size and appearance shouldn't matter, but it does.

1 comment:

  1. I remember the Deputy Leader debate and a Leader debate this time round is a no-brainer. Newsnight would be desperate for it. A little suprised at Johnson not standing as I had him down as a frontrunner, but in the search for party unity and passing onto the next generation, his withdrawal from the race is understandable.