Last week I had the slightly dubious privilege of seeing the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling give a twenty minute presentation at the Anglo-Israel Chamber of Commerce, followed by a ten minute question and answer session. The event was held at Bloomberg’s spectacular building in Finsbury Square in the City and – just, in case I might have forgotten - the prominence of the guest speaker was driven sharply home by the hordes of waiting paparazzi camped patiently on the Bloomberg steps at 7.30am. Not only that, the anxious faces of virtually every worker I saw in the Square Mile, reminded me of the particularly troubled times we are all experiencing.
Several minutes later, I was seated, surrounded by several hundred fellow invitees, awaiting the Chancellor’s address. Now, before I tell you about that, I want to pause a second and relate what my impression of the Chancellor was up until that point i.e. until I saw him “in real life”. Like, I dare say, the vast majority of people in this country, I perceived the Chancellor to be a weak, incompetent man, bullied by the Prime Minister and completely unable to deal with his political remit. I also thought he was a peculiar looking individual with his shock of white hair and black eyebrows.
However, the “reality” was somewhat different. I still think the Chancellor looks a bit strange but he came across as very warm, witty and – dare I say it – competent. Although he didn’t say anything new, his address, which was given without notes, was flawless and he handled all the questions thrown at him with total efficiency. After the address, everyone around me was saying the same thing. How could the Chancellor’s “real” personality be so at odds with his media image?
Almost eighteen months ago, I had a very similar experience. The politician in question was also the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But it was a Chancellor on the verge of becoming a Prime Minister. Gordon Brown was the special guest of Henry Grunwald, the President of the British Board of Deputies of British Jews at their annual dinner. I was able to speak briefly to Mr Brown, who was extremely warm and charming and the then-Chancellor’s ensuing address was both humorous and profound.
Again, up until the time I experienced the “real” Gordon Brown, I had always perceived him to be dour, humourless and rather unpleasant. The contrast was remarkable.
But why is it remarkable? Logic dictates that to attain the highest echelons of political power, you have to be a very impressive individual. But maybe the underlying truth is that we live in a society that is deeply cynical about the integrity and competence of its politicians and this reflects itself in a media, dominated by short sound bites and scathing columnists. Either that or underneath their superficial charm and sincerity, top politicians are merely clueless, self-serving egotists.
Meanwhile, I have still not met anyone who has a kind word to say about Harriet Harman but please correct me if I’m wrong!