Everyone has the walk they deserve

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The Independent Online

It was a terrible, irresponsible thing that Professor Richard Dawkins did when, in the course of his new book on bipedalism, evolution and sexual selection, he invoked the example of the American president and our own dear Prime Minister.

It was a terrible, irresponsible thing that Professor Richard Dawkins did when, in the course of his new book on bipedalism, evolution and sexual selection, he invoked the example of the American president and our own dear Prime Minister.

In The Ancestor's Tale, Dawkins argues that, of all the primates, humans are most prone to imitating each others' behaviour. It was copying one another which first caused our ancestors to stand on two legs. There was a time when early man would only move from a squat-feeding position to a standing posture when circumstances required - he needed to cross a river, pluck fruit from a branch, or simply to show off his penis in a mating display.

Early woman liked a man who did that. Bipedalism caught on, and evolution did the rest.

This imitative behaviour apparently lives on today in the way that humans - males of the species at least - will often copy the way another, more powerful, human carries himself.

At this point, Dawkins invites us to consider how Tony Blair walks when he is in the company of George Bush: the bandy legs, the tough-guy waddle, the hands hanging down loosely like a cowboy, ready to go for his guns at the OK Corral. Clearly some kind of imitative evolutionary business, a beta male copying the troop leader, is going on.

I really wish the professor had found another example. My political vision has been terminally skewed. Just as Reggie Perrin was unable to resist the image of a hippopotamus when the name of his mother-in-law was mentioned, I no longer see the world's most powerful man but a primate, busy exposing himself in a vulgar mating display.

It is worse when his best friend Tony is there, doing an unconvincing, English beta-male imitation of the troop leader.

Thanks to Dawkins, what should have been a triumph at the White House last week - our man standing shoulder to shoulder with the chief while the Spanish Prime Minister has not even had his telephone call returned - became distractingly zoological. The suits of both men seemed too tight. The way they each checked that the middle button of the jacket was fastened looked like defensive ape behaviour. Before they reached the podium for their press conference, it was difficult to take either man seriously.

Such is the power of walking. A man's gait (female mating display is rather different) is more than just part of his physical being. It is an extension of personality and communicates to us in a deeper, more primal way than we normally assume.

If it is true that, to adapt Orwell, by the age of 50 everyone has the walk that they deserve, then clearly our leaders are conveying messages about their strength, sincerity and integrity before they say a word.

When Michael Howard leans with one elbow on the despatch box, he is exuding the fake matiness of a man hanging out in a saloon bar when he would prefer to be at his club. The barrel-chested progress of John Prescott is easier to interpret - here is a Desperate Dan type who would prefer to smash through a gate rather than work out how to open it. On the other hand, Jack Straw's walk, a bishop on a fastidious tour of his benefice, is more complex, the expression of a dangerously deceptive modesty.

So here is the latest task for the spinners and image merchants of Westminster. Never mind the talk. Concentrate on a walk that will speak to the submissive, squat-feeding primate in us all.

Miles Kington is away

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