Apr 11

Royal wedding fever: sense (and nonsense)

Yesterday, the tweeters of politics were fascinated by the fallout from David Cameron saying “Calm down dear”, to a (female) Labour MP at Prime Minister’s Questions. In Washington, Barrack Obama was forced to devote a press briefing to disclosing his birth certificate. In this mad atmosphere, I abandoned my too-serious intention to write about the useful and increasing interest in verification in online news. Just didn’t seem to fit the mood.

Then I fell across (hat-tip: Martha Lane Fox) this piece by Tristram Hunt on tomorrow’s Royal Wedding. This pretty well nails it, especially thanks to Hunt’s depth of historical knowledge. He’s helping to explain why there’s a paradox in the royal soap opera.

When the royal family try too hard to perform for the media and to manipulate their image, it never goes well. When they ration the excitement and play it straight and cautious, the allure which Hunt describes very well holds steady. The Queen has always done it this way; Prince William and his fiancee look as they’ve got it too. Expect lots of commentary from metropolitan media sharpshooters in the next few years about what a boringly domestic couple Wills and Kate are. I suspect that’s exactly where they want to be. Whatever way William plays the media and celebrity, he isn’t likely to imitate his mother.

Tristram Hunt’s grasp of why something as apparently “illogical” as the monarchy endures in popularity is very much stronger than the prediction made by Jonathan Freedland in the New York Review of Books. Freedland acknowledges and analyses the Queen’s durable popularity but thinks that the firm will be in trouble when she dies. That’s to underestimate the strength of the institution. Freedland doesn’t seem to realise that individual members of the British royal family have been making embarrassing mistakes for centuries without interfering with the respect and affection for the idea of monarchy and the family as a whole. It is a very strange, but resilient, mystique.


Apr 10

Dead Man Walking

What tests a political leader in an open system is how he or she reacts when something goes pear-shaped, as it always will. On the campaign trail, endless, intense, tightly-scheduled days when the candidate gets increasingly tired and hoarse, things go wrong more often.

When a missile struck the Barrack Obama campaign, what happened? Hardly an eyelid moved. He was Doctor Cool. The message is not just one of calm purposefulness to the world in general but to the candidate’s team. Obama’s body language said to those closest to him: nobody even thinks about blinking. We deal with it, whatever it is, then we stop dealing with it and move on. Saying little and saying it only once takes nerve.

The small tragedy of Gordon Brown’s reaction to the voter from Rochdale was not what happened when the Prime Minister climbed into his car but what followed after his “bigot” remarks had gone global. The Labour campaign have agonised about getting the “real” Gordon Brown across to voters; attaching a lapel mike was one small way of making that happen. Brown’s ticking off his aides for the “disaster” was recognised by his team because they knew it was the truth. “Authentic, at least,” said one long-suffering Brown aide familiar with mood swings from the Prime Minister. A fit epitaph.

And then Brown could not even exercise the self-mastery to keep his apology short. This mistake is well caught by Matthew Parris in this morning’s Times.

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