Matthew Norman: We all love a plausible rogue

Share

Ever since the dawn of New Labour, one of my favourite points of reference for that cabal of sofa-hogging hoods has been Minder. I first made the link in print some eight years ago, very early in Mr Tony Blair's reign, about a certain Derek "Dolly" Draper.

Ever since the dawn of New Labour, one of my favourite points of reference for that cabal of sofa-hogging hoods has been Minder. I first made the link in print some eight years ago, very early in Mr Tony Blair's reign, about a certain Derek "Dolly" Draper.

Later to star in the "Dollygate" access-for-cash lobbying scandal (and later still to train, via a long spell in the Priory and a short spell flogging New Age crystals, as a psychotherapist), Dolly was Peter Mandelson's best little helper, and thus a made man within the Millbank mob.

Dolly owed his publisher Faber & Faber £500 (in the context, a monkey), and had done what's known at the Winchester Club as a runner, refusing to answer calls or reply to letters requesting repayment. The morning the Minder reference appeared in print, I reached the office to find a rendition of a novelty song on the answerphone.

If you haven't forgotten The Firm's 1982 No 14 hit "Arthur Daley ('E's Alright)", that's probably because you never heard it in the first place. Dolly knew it by heart, however, as he demonstrated by singing all three minutes-worth into the machine. I won't replicate him by trotting out the entire lyric. All that concerns us is the chorus, which runs: "Arthur Daley, little dodgy maybe ... But underneath, 'e's alright."

The reason this artless rhyming couplet comes to mind has less to do with the leaking of the Attorney General's initial advice on the legality of invading Iraq than the instant reaction to it. The first poll done after the leak reveals that, while a huge majority of those with an opinion think Mr Blair lied through his crooked teeth, they still regard him as the best of those applying for the post of British Prime Minister. The man tells whoppers and most of us know it, yet enough of us to ensure his safe return to Downing St couldn't really care less.

With the greatest respect (to borrow Jack Straw's current catch phrase) to my colleague Steve Richards and others who disagree, the sole remaining question about the Prime Minister's dishonesty is more properly a matter for a psychiatrist than a hack.

He has probably said many things on Iraq which any normal person would have known to be untrue. So if he wasn't lying when he said them, it can only be because he suffers a condition whereby he believes that the act of saying some- thing makes it true. Sociopathy is the technical term for this condition.

The sociopath, contrary to popular belief, seldom has a penchant for the gently fried internal organs of passing census-takers. Sociopaths, according to an Australian academic paper published on the internet, are "by definition at least temporarily very successful in society. These people tend to embrace a particular belief system to the exclusion of others. They have no doubts. Typically these belief systems have an internal logic".

Reading on, the portrait becomes spookily familiar. "Sociopathic individuals are extremely self-confident, intelligent, charismatic and persuasive of others as well as themselves. They create a dysfunctional culture - often dizzy and disoriented by its success. Success is proof" - and you have to say this is becoming a touch chilling - "of the accuracy of any claim they make. Words and sometimes bizarre ideas become a substitute for reality.

"They have enormous drive and ambition but few qualms about how they accomplish their objectives. They deal with conflicting evidence by selective perception ... by attacking its credibility or by demonising the messenger." (and no, the author's surname isn't Gilligan). "They can be very successful entrepreneurs."

The entrepreneur, an archetype famously hero-worshipped by this PM, brings us back to that least successful of the breed. Arthur Daley was no sociopath, but a small-time villain with big time ambitions who happily accepted himself for the rascal he was.

Originally, as the title hints, Minder was about his minder, the fundamentally honest and decent Terry McCann. But it quickly became obvious to the writers that punters aren't much taken with morally kosher fellas like McCann.

What we British really relish is a plausible rogue who can look a copper in the eye and tell him, without so much as blinking, that he came by the 3,000 hooky Blackberries in his lock-up from a geezer he met in the boozer, whose name he sadly cannot recall, and whom he's never set eyes on before or since.

If Tony Blair isn't a sociopath (and from the above, you'd be bold to dismiss it out of hand), then he has to be the Arthur Daley of warrior statesmen. When Paxo does his DCI Chisholm act, and says "look , son, we've got you bang to rights on this one, so do yourself a favour and 'fess up", Blair stares straight back and unveils the Daleyesque synthetic moral outrage that anyone could believe such wickedness of him.

Very few give him the benefit of the doubt, but many may warm to the brazen chutzpah. We're all liars to some degree. We all tell the odd porkie pie, whether it involves sexual infidelity, fiddling our expenses, telling the fuzz that 'er indoors was at the wheel to avoid those fatal extra three points on the licence, or even passing the buck for some disaster in the office.

Lying is an essential part of the survival process, at home and at work, but most of us are hopeless at it. My wife flicks her fringe when she denies forgetting to pay the Congestion Charge. I bite my bottom lip while downplaying losses at poker. Jack Straw plays for time with his "with the very greatest of respect".

Lying is exceedingly hard to do well. So how could we fail to admire the Daleys and Blairs when they show such natural talent at an art form that defeats the rest of us?

Well, it's a theory. Perhaps it isn't an especially brilliant one, but it does at least attempt to explain why this time next week Tony Blair will announce (and I'd stock up on the anti-emetics now) that the British people have said it's time to lay Iraq to rest, and let's hear not another word.

I find it painfully difficult to accept that this country is poised to re-elect a man, however odious the alternative, whom it believes misled it to war. Quite frankly, viewing it in such crude terms - as a straight choice for the public between seeing the Prime Minister as Hannibal Lector or Arthur Daley - dulls the pain a little.

And if the polls are right, the choice is made. The people have had a long, hard look, and plumped for Daley. Tony Blair, very dodgy maybe, the electoral verdict seems certain to be, but underneath 'e's alright.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Software Development Project Manager - Kingston Upon Thames

£55000 - £60000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Experienced Software Dev...

Recruitment Genius: Unqualified NVQ Assessors - Health, Social Care & Management

£16000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning independent ...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant - Immediate Start - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant - Immediate ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Most powerful woman in British politics

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
All the major parties are under pressure from sceptical voters to spell out their tax and spending plans  

Yet again, the economy is the battleground on which the election will be fought

Patrick Diamond
Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders