The week began with the election results. Not ours obviously — but results from the French presidential election where Emmanuel Macron was facing down Marine Le Pen. Macron scraped home but was surely rattled by the strong showing from Le Pen.
More wounding still, will have been voters saying they’d voted for him, not because they wanted him in, but because they wanted to keep her out.
One disgruntled interviewee said it was like a choice between the plague and cholera.
Even here, where we also tend to be a bit unkind about politicians, I don’t think we’d go as far as to categorise our different parties quite as savagely as that.
A choice between the flu and the cold maybe. Or the toothache and the runs.
Presidential elections are always as much about the personalities as the politics.
Macron was slated as elitist and arrogant. Le Pen was seen as heartless and racist.
Monsieur Snooty v Madame Le Pain in a charisma-free contest.
I’d hesitate to use the word ‘charisma’ in our local electoral context because, let’s be honest, Northern Ireland politics isn’t exactly fizzing with the stuff.
But as we approach a nail-biter election, leadership style counts as well as all those other important things like cost of living, the border and who’s got most posters still up on the lampposts.
The clash of titans here will be between Michelle O’Neill and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson with the First Minister’s chair being the Stormont equivalent of the keys to the Elysee Palace.
Fond of calling on others to show leadership, Michelle O’Neill’s own leadership style has changed markedly since she was first elected SF boss. Back then, the impression was that someone (with a beard and glasses) was still looking over her shoulder.
Sinn Fein being Sinn Fein, there remains a very strong sense of backroom control, but Michelle seems to have relaxed more into the role. On the downside her first language is political jargon which is great for sloganising, not so much for helping her come across as spontaneous and relatable.
Relaxed is not a word that springs to mind where Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is concerned. Of all the party leaders, he’s the one facing the biggest challenge in this election. The polls suggest his party will come second fiddle to Sinn Fein — but those predictions could also encourage some waverers, as in France, to vote for him to keep her out.
Gentlemanly Jeffrey exudes much more warmth than most of his predecessors. But even on RHI full blast setting, he’s going to have some job trying to refire his party.
The other party leaders, however well they poll, are unlikely to be headed for the First Chair.
Where the border is concerned, Alliance is the party of “I’m having whatever you’re having.” Under Naomi Long’s leadership it’s steered away from constitutional wrangling to concentrate on social and economic issues.
In working class areas, though, it can still come across as elitist, patronising and hung up on apostrophe placement.
Naomi is her party’s greatest asset and performs well on air and online. Downside — she can also veer a bit towards preachy.
Former soldier Doug Beattie is, out of all the party leaders, the one who is the most open about his feelings and failings. An interesting character, his main appeal is to a new generation of young voters and to unionists disillusioned by previous UUP defeatism.
He’s gutsy and doesn’t hold back in speaking from the heart. Which is commendably open and honest if not always a wise course in politics.
Colum Eastwood is another leader who uses the heart as well as the head. When he postponed the SDLP’s conference as a mark of respect after the death of the DUP MLA Christopher Stalford, the gesture touched people right across the community. Despite the puff of white in his beard, Eastwood is the most youthful of the five main party leaders and has livened up the SDLP considerably bringing in new blood and fresh impetus.
He’s big on positivity — a positivity that maybe flatters our local political reality.
On a personal level then, our leaders aren’t the worst. It’s their party politics which divide and cloud our view of them.
Also we know that, whoever ends up First Minister, and no sooner will the ballot boxes have been restacked, we’ll be back to the same oul squabbling.
In Northern Ireland as in France, plus ça change.
The House of Commons is looking increasingly like the House of the Rising Sun. Stories this week ranged from crude comments made about Angela Rayners’ legs, to dozens of male MPs accused of sexual misconduct and one MP said to have watched porn. The case of the alleged perv watching porn highlights a side issue. Why are MPs allowed to use their phones during debates anyway? They could be doing anything — shopping on Amazon, betting on the 2.30 at Kempton. Churchill got by without one. And he had a war to run.
What would you do if you had a very, very large amount of money? Elon Musk bought Twitter. And Serena Williams and Sir Lewis Hamilton are looking to buy Chelsea FC. Frances and Patrick Connolly from Moira, who won £115m on the lottery, have given half of it away. Just reading about this lovely couple gives you a lift. They’ll doubtless get begging letters from conmen on the make but so many needy people must be so grateful. Frances says the win hasn’t changed their own lives. It’s undeniably changed other people’s.
Vladimir Putin is plumbing the depths in his desperation to win the war.
It’s revealed that among his crack troops are aquatic mammals. Dolphins, to be precise.
The Russians are deploying the creatures to detect mines using their natural sonar. The information is transmitted back via attached devices. This is not a first. The US have also trained dolphins and sea lions. And the Russians are suspected of deploying a beluga whale which “harassed” a fishing fleet off Norway.
Keep an eye on your goldfish. You never know where its sympathies lie.