The General Election grinds on and on. And with it the usual Niagara of promises from each of the competing parties which, should you be daft enough to believe the rhetoric, will transform Britain into a golden New Jerusalem, glowing with opportunities for all.
Our Green and Pleasant post Brexit Land will thrive as never before. There will be permanent smiles of joy on our faces, children will glow and there will a new sense of confidence. Sound familiar?
Yes — we’ve heard it all before and all delivered with those ringing Messianic tones. The trouble is that the politicians delivering this hard sell actually believe these promises. Well, some of them do. All you have to do is to vote for them on June 8 and, hey presto, our land will start overflowing with milk and honey. Oh joy!
As a journalist of many years, I have been involved in the coverage of countless General Elections, starting when Harold Macmillan — he who told us that “we never had it so good” — sought the highest office in the land.
Macmillan, whose patrician manner belied a sharp intellect, had a certain grandeur about him. He possessed an aristocratic drawl, despite his claims that he was descended from humble Scottish crofter stock. And he displayed what the press described, in somewhat unflattering terms, his “grouse moor image.”
Watching him tour the country he could easily have been a Victorian actor-manager, a fact borne out his grand performances as a speaker. He was unfailingly polite and greatly enjoyed playing tricks on (then) young reporters like me.
I once asked him what he thought of a new book by Harold Wilson, who would himself one day be Prime Minister. “Political banality,” he said loftily. “Could easily be the scribblings of a easily led undergraduate.”
Was I on the threshold of a magnificent scoop? Sadly no, for (with a cheeky twinkle in his eyes), Macmillan added: “If you quote me on that, I shall deny it. It was all off the record.” And he walked off chuckling to himself. In those days we respected such “off the record” censures. These days, we would go ahead and print it!
Then there was Wilson — a brilliant mind but as cunning as a snake.He would puff on a pipe, the very picture of trust. But the moment the cameras were off him, he lit up a huge cigar and took refuge in one of the finer cognacs.
There was Edward Heath, whom I grew to like despite his strange, tortured manner. But he could be quite insulting, even to his own constituents. Once, as he engaged the public in the streets, a shabby-looking man came over and complained that he could not find any work.
“Oh dear,”said Heath, “well, I’m alright. I’ve got a job.” And he walked off, leaving the poor man with his mouth open in astonishment.
Margaret Thatcher was fierce when it came to electioneering. If anyone dared question her, she would turn her blue eyes on them like lasers. She was the re-incarnation of the Medusa — particularly to other women. With men, however, she never hesitated to use her considerable sex appeal. The late French President, Francois Mitterand, summed her up perfectly when he said she had “the mouth of Marilyn Monroe and the eyes of Caligula.”
On the electioneering road, James Callaghan lived up to his “Sunny Jim” reputation — all smiles and bonhomie. But he was often bad tempered if matters didn’t going his way.
In more recent years, Tony Blair also smiled a lot as he preached his doctrine of New Labour. He,too,was all boyish charm as he misled the nation. His nickname of “Bambi” was well-deserved and one could not help being instantly suspicious of a man who was so synthetic.
Ed Milliband was, quite frankly, hopeless. He had the on-road manner of a student activist. And, as for Gordon Brown, well, he just could not connect with ordinary people. He was perpetually grumpy, touchy if asked leading questions, and would descend into political gibberish on many an occasion.
David Cameron, when faced with the public, was cheeriness personified and sprayed the public with a certain Etonian charm. But he could be testy on occasion.
And what of St Theresa? From what I’ve seen, she does deserve to be likened to a grammar school headmistress. There is a certain firmness of manner and one can easily imagine her calling out “walk don’t run, Clarissa” at some erring pupil.
Will she win? You can’t be too precise about the British voting public. Stranger results have emerged — who, for instance, would have predicted that the nation voted to leave the EU?
And what of Jeremy Corbyn, should he win? It could happen. Just think of it — A Marxist in No 10. And a State Visit by that fat chap who runs North Korea to follow.