Pity the poor politician, damned whatever he does

Instead of homoerotic Hockneys signed "Iain" or claims that John Prescott wears lipstick, we have the periodic eruption of Mo

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Those of my best friends who are not analysts or lesbians tend to be anarchists. Sort of. They don't throw bombs into the czar's carriage or shoot French prime ministers, or even find time for the modern equivalents – trashing GM crops and smashing up McDonald's. But these friends do have a complete, full-time disregard for those in power, whoever they are. The very act of seeking power is sufficient, in their view, to disqualify anyone from exercising it.

Those of my best friends who are not analysts or lesbians tend to be anarchists. Sort of. They don't throw bombs into the czar's carriage or shoot French prime ministers, or even find time for the modern equivalents – trashing GM crops and smashing up McDonald's. But these friends do have a complete, full-time disregard for those in power, whoever they are. The very act of seeking power is sufficient, in their view, to disqualify anyone from exercising it.

The logic of their attitude is that we ought to draw our MPs by lot – each May Day – from a hat containing the names of every citizen in the land. The same with judges, chief constables, headteachers and national newspaper editors. The more reluctant the office-holder, the better. We could hold the draw live on TV in a special edition of the National Lottery programme, presented by a Mrs Nancy Pugh of Carmarthen (Dale Winton will be joining Charles Clarke – both in fetching liveries – precariously serving tea on the stopping train from Sunderland to Plymouth).

I would love to go along with this. It would be more fulfilling (so much more total, somehow) to feel genuine contempt for the machinations and compromises of the governing classes. But I have tasted power and am tainted. I might not have been very good at exercising authority, but I learnt the lesson (disastrous for a journalist), that many of those who want to run things do so from good motives, and that some of those who condemn them for it do so for worse ones.

The politician's experience of ingratitude evokes my sympathy. There was a poll this week (on slow days we should thank the deity for polls, surveys, new archaeological evidence and conferences of the British Psychological Society) showing that women felt that this government had "done nothing" for them. And I wondered how they had somehow missed the huge expansion of nursery education, the substantial increases in child benefit (paid to the mother), the rise in incomes since 1997, and all that.

My humid heart went out to the poor old Chancellor, doing his level best for these harridans and getting a smack in the chiselled features for his pains. If I were him, come Wednesday, I'd take all this stuff away again and spend it on overseas aid and people who really appreciate it.

That's what you get for being nice, as Helen Clark, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, has been finding out. Back when she was leader of the New Zealand opposition (practically a definition of powerlessness), Ms Clark was approached by an animal welfare group called Save Animals from Exploitation, or SAFE, and asked to paint a picture and then donate it for their fund-raising auction. Things were a bit fraught. Ms Clark subsequently pointed out that "it was election year, I was the leader of the opposition and I was as busy as a one-armed wallpaper hanger". She should really have told SAFE to get lost, or that she'd only worry about their cause when the exploited sheep of New Zealand themselves marched on the capital in their millions, bleating for change.

She didn't. If she had, she'd have been pilloried as uncaring. Instead, her office arranged for a professional artist to knock up an abstract. The artist delivered, was paid, Ms Clark put her own name at the bottom, and the misattributed masterpiece was flogged off to an Auckland businessman – a Mr Van Dijk (incredible but true) – for just under 300 quid. Now, six years later, the truth has emerged and the kiwi PM is under fire. SAFE say she has misled them; Mr Van Dijk adds, "The painting is a joke. If it's not by her, it's not worth $2 now."

So, should Helen Clark have taken time out from leading her party to victory in the general election, and spent it instead in laboriously painting something horrible on behalf of the Mount Mogonui Blackface? Of course not, that would have been crazy. But whatever she did, she couldn't win. ("Tough!" exclaim the anarchists.)

No more can Gerhard Schröder. The German Chancellor, facing elections, is bringing a libel case against the DPP press agency. The case concerns the 58-year-old Chancellor's hair. One day – probably lacking in reports from the German Psychological Society – DPP ran a story based on comments from a woman image consultant, urging Mr Schröder to admit that he dyed his hair. She said that such an admission would enhance his credibility. Immediately his conservative opponents stepped in, with the inevitable (though sexist) claim that "someone who touches up his hair is also likely to touch up statistics".

Mr Schröder, however, does not dye his hair. Herr Udo Walz, hairdresser to the Chancellor, says so, and he ought to know. But what was the wronged politician to do? If he merely denied the story, no-one would believe him. If he didn't deny it, then the hunt would be on for the exact colour and brand that he was using. Did he trim his nostril hair? Did he wear Calvin Klein hipster briefs with the reinforced pouch? Und so bloody weiter.

He sued. First he won a court injunction preventing DPP from repeating the slander, and then he sued. And now he looks completely ridiculous. He is accused of a "sense of humour failure", and reviled for wasting his time on pursuing trivial issues when the Kirch company is going down the pan and there are exploited German animals to save. (Cries of "Who cares?" from the wings.)

Here, instead of homoerotic Hockneys signed "Iain" or claims that John Prescott wears lipstick, we have the periodic eruption of Mo. Mo poses exactly the same problems for Number 10 as the hair-dye and fake daubs do for their social democratic brethren and sistren across the waters. Whatever happens, Alastair Campbell and co are kebabed. If Mo says that Tone is a slant-eyed creep who picks his nose at Cabinet, and then flicks it at his colleagues, Number 10 has to issue a statement replying that Mo was a marvellous member of the first administration and that everybody misses her like crazy. "She can say what she likes about us," they complain, "but if we respond then we're guilty of character assassination".

In recent weeks, Mo has opined that the PM is only going abroad because he can't cope with domestic issues, that he's too presidential, and that he's wrong on Iraq. In the Channel 4 profile that is due to come out next month, she will urge that the Chancellor should be sacked. And Number 10 will respond by saying what a good minister she was.

They have to, because she has managed to get hers in first. Talking about the period before her departure from Northern Ireland, she will, apparently, say: "They [presumably the spinners, ed] will stop at nothing... My health was used against me all the way through the whispering campaign, which I thought was disgusting."

Number 10 strenuously denies that anyone there ever said anything about her illness, and there are quite a few leathery veterans of the lobby who believe this denial. Which means that no one from now on can ever suggest, even in casual conversation, that the performance of a senior minister may be affected by, say, treatment for a brain tumour. Bizarre.

("Yes, well," my friends chorus, as they light up their Gitanes.)

David.Aaronovitch@btinternet.com

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