Belfast Telegraph

Why politicians' soundbites just leave sour taste

By Gail Walker

I can't help but feel a small, greasy, fat-saturated crumb of sympathy for Toff's Toff George Osborne over Pasty-gate.

While it may be reasonable to argue about a government stuffed to the gills with Eton alumni being detached from the needs of ordinary people, do we really need to demand the Chancellor of the Exchequer be familiar with Gregg's the bakers - just to prove that he's an ordinary bloke?

Within hours of Osborne fluffing the Gregg's loyalty test, we had the unedifying sight of Eds Miliband and Balls at Gregg's buying bags of pasties - as I am sure they do most days. Worse, we had David Cameron telling a Press conference when he last had a Cornish pasty (at Leeds station, apparently). "And very good it was too." Apparently.

Do they think we are such fools? That we will somehow be seriously impressed that Dave, George and Eds Squared are no strangers to the world of sausage rolls and Cornish pasties?

After 20 years of soundbite politics, it's now the norm that all politicians have to prove they are "ordinary blokes". Strangely enough, there doesn't seem to be the same pressure for women politicians to match up to such asinine ideas of "being in touch".

Remember Tony Blair? The pints down at the Sedgefield Labour Club? The undying yet strangely unproven devotion to Newcastle United? The mockney accent? Gordon Brown and his fondness of the Arctic Monkeys? The X-Factor fandom? David Cameron's advocacy of The Jam and The Smiths? All of them never to be recalled without a blush of shame and embarrassment.

We may be judging them harshly but, really, does anybody believe a word of it? And yet, the ritual self-abasement must go on - the desperate efforts of people who are as ordinary as Sir Elton to show that they are just like us and understand our pain.

Yes, it is important that our leaders understand the day-to-day lives of the people they claim to lead, but why such clumsy, stupid ciphers - pasties, pints, footie, pop music, low rent TV. Are our lives that crude? That simplistic? That ... that ... limited?

After all, what is normal, what is ordinary, nowadays? I know taxi drivers who listen to ClassicFM, not TalkSport, beer-swilling vegetarians, Joe Soaps who don't know the offside rule and would prefer Quorn fruity burgers to a sausage roll and brown sauce.

Many of us would fail the Gregg's test that politicians set up for themselves. We are more complex than that.

And what we really want is for politicians to be themselves and to have genuine passions: Roy Hattersley and his love of Corrie and all things Yorkshire and Alasdair Campbell's fanatical support of Burnley, to take only two examples. We feel that they are genuine because they also have a greater background. Hattersley as fine memoirist and popular historian, Campbell because of his frank confessions of his problems with alcohol and depression. These passions and difficulties are not simple PR spray-ons, but facets of a full human experience.

And do we truly expect our political leaders to be simple man of the people types?

Who are the two most respected parliamentarians of our lifetimes? Enoch Powell and Tony Benn. Powell wrote poetry in Latin and Benn is devoted to tea and a history of 19th century socialist movements - not the sort of things much discussed down the pub. Yet both were/are authentic to themselves - a much more attractive quality than patronising the electorate.

Rather than politicians who pretend devotion to Gregg's, we'd prefer those with visible substance: businessmen who have struggled to build a company; trade unionists who stood up for their workers; those who have devoted themselves to charities and worthy causes; men and women with brains and genuine talent.

And if they like Renaissance art, Gregorian chant and Japanese Zen poetry and wouldn't know one end of a sausage roll from another, then I would say good luck to them.

Real world experience, please, not real world posturing.

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