The Sunday political shows are not known for their eye candy and generally confirm the mantra that politics is showbusiness for ugly people – until last week when Andrew Marr bagged an audience with Emmanuel Macron. Mon Dieu! Political geeks around the country swooned over their gluten-free cornflakes.
Now it would of course be wholly inappropriate to comment on the overwhelming handsome dreaminess of the French President and his piercing blue eyes … so let’s hear no more of that kind of talk. No. You stop it. But the thing that really stood out was how impressive his performance was.
The interview was in English and Macron made more sense in a second language than most of our politicians do in their first. He was fluent, confident, insightful, articulate and, most of all, gave what is a rare thing for us watchers of politics – a straight answer. Zut Alors!
When asked if he thought France would have voted to leave the European Union, he replied “it probably would have been the same result”. Even Marr didn’t quite know how to respond to such candour. Remember this is a man who spends his Sunday morning interviewing British political leaders from right across the spectrum and can barely get a straight answer out of them on anything. They can barely confirm their own name, let alone tell us what they really think about Brexit. We have a Prime Minister who was a Remainer who went Missing In Action during the referendum campaign, and who can’t answer the how she would vote if there were a second referendum or another vote.
And we have a Leader of the Opposition who’s always hated the EU, took a wee mini-break during the referendum campaign and won’t say what Labour wants in terms of a deal. Macron was, by the way, clear that we cannot have our gateaux and eat it. We can’t just cherry pick bits of the EU that we like.
When asked about whether he shared the outrage about Donald Trump calling African countries “s***holes”, there was a pause as he clenched his rather commanding jaw and narrowed those eyes and he replied: “For sure. That is not a word you can use.”
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Even the Sun’s political editor Tom Newton Dunn tweeted: “Would Theresa May say that?” Let’s look at what has come from our Prime Minister. A Downing Street spokesman said: “I think this is unconfirmed reporting of alleged private remarks. I don’t think you’d expect me to comment further on that.”
Oooh. How’s that for a clear, courageous response? The French President rounded off his interview in pitch-perfect manner by saying that politicians need “efficiency, authority, humanity” and the crowds went wild. And, before you start, it wasn’t even the usual leftie, snowflake, luvvie, Remainers who thought he was a class act. Even Piers Morgan tweeted the Marr show that it “must be nice to have a charismatic leader #macron”. For once, something which I can agree with him on!
Now. Not everyone was as much of a smitten kitten as I was. There was some grumbling about how he thinks he can “come over ‘ere and give it the big one about Brexit in his funny foreign accent”. “Who does ‘e fink he is? Vis is Engerland …”
They did tend to be slightly older gentleman of a right-wing disposition who are very angry with everything about the EU and very happy with the decision to be leaving. One chap ranted that Macron was gross, slimy and lacked any substance. The fact that he looked like a potato and listed his passions as Brexit, Trump and Metallica is neither here nor there of course.
But it throws up a real question? Where is all our political talent when it comes to leadership? I can totally accept that people got sick of all spin and no substance, and we are all now meant to love a bit of shambolic, unplugged authenticity and humility but, come on, do we have to throw the baby out with the bathwater? We are living in a charisma-free zone in politics right now. Of course, that’s not the only thing that matters, but your ability to communicate is important in politics. Having something about you makes a difference.
Being able to connect with people and being able to impress them is important if you want to win their trust and their votes. A bit of stardust goes a long way in politics whether you like it or not. And, on top of that, no one seems to have any strength, courage or ability to make an honest, intelligent argument about our future. May is best described as the “Maybot” by the brilliant John Crace of the Guardian. Corbyn can storm it at Glastonbury but are his greatest hits travelling that well across the rest of the country?
Neither May nor Corbyn are natural performers. Henry Bolton is a national joke. Vince Cable has all but disappeared. Sturgeon definitely has ability and charisma but her obsession with independence obscures that and many people who may be impressed with her just don’t trust her agenda.
Sadly, our political leaders are lacking the Macron factor. I get asked all the time who I think would be our great hope and the problem is this. There are talented MPs in all our parties at a more junior level but they aren’t getting the chance to learn, grow and shine as all the parties have to shore up their leaders right now in this febrile climate.
Political parties aren’t very good at succession planning and nurturing talent. Often bright young things – or bright mature things – are seen as a threat and chopped down. And our contempt for politics and politicians – driven by events like the expenses or recent sexual harassment scandals or austerity – make us all crave leaders who are very different to what went before, which is understandable. We want our politicians to be more like us and more accessible which is a really important and good thing. But remember, to be a successful political leader, you do also have to be a rather extraordinary human being.
Compared to the movie star that is Macron, sadly all of ours feel like extras.