Sunday 26 April 2009

Personality politics

It has been an interesting weekend for political interviews and books.

The Times magazine carries Peter Mandelson's most personal interview since returning to government, though he is mainly speaks candidly - "I was the third person in the marriage" - about things that are already well known about his relationship with Blair and Brown.

It has seemed quite difficult to find a newspaper without a Boris Johnson interview. Indeed, he was in the middle of being interviewed for Saturday's Telegraph at the moment Thursday's Standard interview suggesting he might only stand for one term appeared.

There are two particularly revealing pieces from the authors of well sourced books.

An Times extract from the updated paperback edition of the Cameron biography by Francis Elliott and James Hanning, which paints a picture not just of wary rivalry and potentially clashing ambitions, but of mutual incomprehension.

While for many the clever, funny, loveable Boris has enlivened the political landscape, Cameron sees a man who, carried away by his own verbal brilliance, is forever having to issue apologies for his lack of restraint. Who was sacked from The Times for inventing quotes? Whose extramarital affairs resulted in at least two abortions and deep distress to at least two women? Whose idealism and loathing of priggishness prevented him from understanding why his mistress would not be happy to go on a Johnson family holiday? Who lied to the press and to his boss about an affair? If Boris regards Cameron as stodgy and conventional, Cameron sees Boris as being dangerously spirited and lacking the necessary moral cut-out or internal alarm system to be a serious politician.

Cameron is quoted saying: “I sometimes think there are people in politics who ought to be in journalism and there are people in journalism who should be in politics, but I’m certainly not going to say who.”

Corroboration can be found in a very entertaining Spectator feature by Boris biographer Andrew Gimson Boris for Prime Minister which suggests that the deepest rivalry will in fact between Boris Johnson and George Osborne, who are shaping up for a post-Cameron leadership contest.

There could be no man less likely to await orders from the small but gifted general staff around Mr Cameron. Mr Johnson is happy to accept reinforcements from that quarter, but its timidity is repugnant to him ... For him, one of the great merits of having no explicit doctrine is that he can avoid digging massive fortifications at what will most likely turn out to be the wrong place, and can instead fight a war of movement, reacting at lightning speed to unexpected events and expressing the public mood before the public even knows what its mood is. To his detractors, this looks like opportunism, and recalls Lord Beaverbrook’s remark about Lloyd George: ‘He did not seem to care which way he travelled provided he was in the driver’s seat.’ But it can more generously be described as an adventurous pragmatism.

Finally, the new issue of Total Politics - which is a 1979 election special - has an interview with Paddy Ashdown where the former LibDem leader says of the abortive Blair-Ashdown partnership:

I remain of the view that he was intending to do it and the problem was far more that it was the big thing he wanted to do, but it was never the next thing


I remain of the belief that the realignment will happen. The big event is for the centre left to realign. Then the Conservatives are in real trouble.

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