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April 07, 2014

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Duncan

The world is one big 'X factor' and you get points for entertaining people, regardless of what you have to say or how you act. Putin's also one to put on this pile. can be forgiven almost everything he's done by some people simply because he's the wacky topless man on horseback.

Alex

I don't even think it is expedient. In many ways, weird is good. Marketers make extraordinary efforts to make their products look weird - nichey, cool, exciting, interesting, handcrafted, customised etc. The opposite of weird is creepy. Compare Boris Johnson and David Cameron.

pablopatito

There's good and weird and bad weird. Steve Jobs was extremely weird, but people worship him and think he was a great leader. Ditto Churchill.

(Not that I'd want Steve Jobs to run the country.)

Luis Enrique

"It's obvious that this odd mythology serves the interests of the ruling class."

what is the ruling class?

you can define it as "those who rule" because if rulers were picked by lottery they'd still be the ruling class by that definition.

it's not the same thing as "the well-off". Is it a sort of intersection between being old money or sufficiently wealthy nouveau and being in politics?

in which case voters' liking people with a common touch they might share a pint with doesn't serve the interests of many of them.

what would (does?) serve their interests is a subconscious liking for being ruled by people who sound aristocratic

Ben

Brits either have to start behaving in a grown-up way or continue to have resources taken away from them because they make the wrong decisions.

breviosity

"I'd like politicians to be geeks in the original sense of the word - people concerned about facts rather than what others think of them."

So would I, but it isn't possible in democracy that is becoming more and more idiocracy.

Can anyone name any geeks in power in democracies? Mr Lee of Singapore is the only one I can think of, and of course he was no democrat.

Rob

pablopatito above said "Steve Jobs was extremely weird, but people worship him and think he was a great leader". I think what Jobs and Churchill had in common was that they both spent their time in the wilderness. They were weird, and in many ways both men were greatly fortunate, but they didn't have everything their own way. They had extreme (for their time and place) views which turned out to be correct, but they had to show a lot of perseverance in order to be proved right (and in Churchill's case, being proved right can hardly have been cause for celebration).

It is perhaps the case that weirdos cope better with adversity than others. At the death of the last Labour government, the only person who seemed to have the vaguest sense of what he was doing was Peter Mandelson, running around patching things up while others were already jockeying for influence. For a long time, the Lib Dems clung on to bare existence due in part to their stubborn weirdness.

For a Cameron-esque politician, the main aim in life is to be seen as a "winner", and any failure is treated as near-fatal. Perhaps one can recover, if the defeat is spun as something inevitable and due entirely to circumstances beyond one's control, but for the most part an identity built around winning is a brittle one, falsifiable by a single piece of evidence to the contrary. The weird are somewhat immune to this, because if your main aim in life is "to be right about things" then defeat isn't the end, it's just a learning experience that you'll very likely come back stronger from, as Jobs and Churchill did.

The problem with Miliband is that he's neither fish nor fowl here. He's weird enough to not look like an obvious 'winner', but if he is weird then he's also not very experienced at coping with defeat and, as a result, may not have learned very much. His post-2010 period can hardly be described as a walk in the wilderness, beginning as it did with his surprise victory in Labour's leadership election. Picking Ed Balls as shadow chancellor makes hard thinking about the failures of the last Labour government hard.

His policy ideas seem to be a strange mix:

- concessions to 'reality', i.e. continuing things that the Tories started
- vaguely left-ish noises
- populist guff that won't change much (which often overlaps with the left-ish noises)

In contrast, the Labour of 1997 had some pretty strong ideas about what it wanted to change and why, partly because they'd had a long time to think about it but also because they'd really had to fight for their survival and understood the stakes.

For me, Miliband looks more like an also-ran wannabe winner than a well-tempered weirdo. I think Nick Clegg falls into a similar category. Both are bright men who, on account of their brightness and presentability have risen fast under the sponsorship of their elders (Clegg was really the Lib Dems' first ever leader to have started with a safe seat, Sheffield Hallam being vacated by the genuine weirdo Richard Allan in 2005). Both men could have the potential to do great things, but they're probably going to end up having bland, ineffectual careers in charge of their parties, achieving relatively little. By the time they've had enough reverses to learn what's important, they'll be premature elder statesmen, fit for nothing more than being badgered by Andrew Neil on a lurid purple sofa before jetting off to speak at a third-rate NGO conference about solar power in Uzbekistan or padding about the offices of a consultancy firm trying to look relevant to anything at all.

The problem is that the 'winner' persona is really hard to defeat. It's just about the simplest message you can possibly construct, and it's ludicrously effective, at least as far as getting to be party leader is concerned. "Vote for Cameron because he's a winner" was pretty much Cameron's entire campaign for the Tory leadership. Following on from that, as a 'winner' he got to tell his party what it needed to do in order to 'win', until he stopped looking like such a winner and they started ignoring him, at which point he had absolutely nothing else to fall back on. But the inattentive don't think that far ahead, and it's really easy to persuade people that a) since you've heard of this guy he's probably important and b) he's probably going to win and c) that means he's a winner and d) we want a winner as leader, don't we? therefore e) everyone wants this guy, so he's going to win. The very fact that his winningness can't be explained rationally makes this argument stronger, because the rationally inattentive know that they're inattentive, they know that there are variables that they're ignorant of, and they're happy with that. They're happy to assume that some hidden variable is present, driving the winner forward, and they don't need to know what it is. The weirdos trying to talk about the very visible variables in their favour (viz. actually having a plan, or enough brain-cells and principles to improvise a non-awful plan when called for) get nowhere.

Metatone

Is Rentoul ever actually correct?

Let's take this instance - all of those "characters" who could stand up to Tony Blair and tell him he was wrong - did it help with that one big wrong decision over Iraq? (Leaving aside all the other mistakes he made, because hey, we all make mistakes…)

(Let us note that the decision was wrong both from the perspective of good decision making for the country, but also from the perspective of Blair's career - he'd have had a much better legacy with a better decision on that point, even if Rentoul would no doubt still claim invading Iraq was a good idea…)

From Arse To Elbow

I think "weird" in this context is probably a synonym for a number of other objections that his critics are loath to openly articulate. Michael Howard ("something of the night"), Mandelson and Leon Brittan were all previous recipients of this veiled snidery.

Luis Enrique

Fate, I'm ignorant. Openly articulate it for me.

From Arse To Elbow

Weird = alien = foreign = Jewish

Luis Enrique

Ah. Thanks

Igor Belanov

I wouldn't want to have a pint with anyone who would want to have a pint with Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson.

Guano

Metatone re John Rentoul.

I agree. New Labour was proud about not having discussions about policy: that would be going back to the divisions of the 1980s. The objective was for everyone to be "on message". The end result was that the Cabinet was supposed to know what the Iraq policy was by reading the papers.

theOnlySanePersonOnPlanetEarth

This is not new, Miliband has always been considered 'unelectable' due to his appearance. Michael Foot had the same problem. (Funilly enough that sinister bumbling prankster clown Boris Johnson seems immune!)
It does seem though if your skin is tanned, you have neutral features and dress a bit like a posh slimy used car salesman you stand a better chance of elecoral success.

This however points to a complete breakdown of democracy and I can only put that down to a chasm between the political class and the masses. The answer to this is not to decry culture but to argue it is better to fundamentally change what democracy is rather than relying on leaders, whether wierd or slimy.

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