If you were a minister for welfare anywhere in the Western world right now, you'd probably be having more than a bit of a blub. You'd struggle to get out of bed. You'd have a blotchy face. There's no doubting the necessity for snotty-faced, red-eyed despair. There's your growth industry, Europe. Shares in balsam tissues. The only question is this: should you actually break down in public, sobs and all?
One Italian MP already has. Announcing a series of cutbacks and the harsh news that all but the lowest pensions would be frozen this year, Elsa Fornero, the new welfare minister, started crying before she could get her words out: "We – and this really cost us dear, psychologically even – we've had to ask for sac..." She broke off and was unable to whimper the word "sacrifices", leaving her speech unfinished.
The 30 seconds of footage are fascinating. Fornero goes from control to meltdown in a split second. It's beautiful and compelling to watch. Her male colleague takes over. It's a move which was probably necessary in the circumstances (Fornero literally can't speak) but makes him appear cold and bureaucratic.
Because here's the surprise. By allowing herself to show weakness openly, Fornero comes across as exceptionally strong. She's someone you'd want in charge of your economy: she knows her stuff, she is prepared to make difficult decisions – but she cares. She also recovers as quickly as she lost it, turning to murmur something arch to another colleague. (I like to imagine she was saying, "Oh, great. So now I look pathetic." Except she absolutely doesn't. She looks real.)
We need more tears in politics. When was the last time you saw a politician do or say anything which seems unguarded, genuine or half human? Claire Short is the only one who springs to mind, and they don't let her out anymore. The feelings currently on display in political discourse run the gamut from Arrogant to Bluster.
It's enough to make you miss Tony Blair's funny little face. Now there was a man who struggled to contain his feelings – and once upon a time it made him very popular. (I'm talking early Blair, before he went all fake and Queen of Hearts.) Public displays of extreme emotion can be a great show of strength. Nothing is more attractive to an audience than someone allowing us to see them at their most vulnerable. Did Fornero weaken her position? No, the opposite. Before she loses control, she projects steely authority. It's Thatcher meets Hollywood. Another YouTube clip for Meryl Streep's bulging Favourites folder.
So bring on the weeping. The only danger is the potential for inauthenticity. Yes, I'm looking at you, George Osborne. We only want to see you suffering if you're really feeling it on the inside. So, come on, George, cry like a little girl. Not man enough? Crocodile tears will do. To the House of Commons! With peeled onions!Reuse content