On the leadership beat: Introducing Westminster's born drummers

In politics, as in music, there are some who are great at leading the band, and others who are better suited to the background

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How many drummers can you name who went on to be successful lead singers? Phil Collins of Genesis? Dave Grohl of Nirvana? Don Henley of the Eagles? Not many more – and no, Ringo Starr doesn’t count.

I ask, not only because of the drummer drama Whiplash receiving five Oscar nominations, but also because applying a drummer-turned-lead singer test to political leadership battles might be quite useful. To put it bluntly, in politics, as in music, there are some who are great at leading the band, and others who are better suited to the background, providing a consistent, solid rhythm.

Maybe – as with Gordon Brown (so clearly a drummer) – the political percussionist has more brains than a singer like Tony Blair, but it’s charisma and leadership people want in that role. It is very rare for even the best drummers to make that transformation to the front of the stage, and when they do, it is with limited success, as Brown’s premiership showed.

You might think that MPs are fully focused on fighting the general election because that’s what they tell us – but this isn’t strictly true. Many, on all sides, are becoming obsessed with the prospect of leadership contests in their parties after the election, and one of the two major parties is going to get one. A Liberal Democrat contest is certainly on the cards if there’s no hung parliament. Speak to any MP who is preoccupied with their next leader, and they all fret that each candidate has at least one drawback. Perhaps it would help to ask the question: is he or she a drummer or a lead singer? For Labour, Chuka Umunna is clearly a lead singer. Andy Burnham is a drummer. Lib Dems: Ed Davey is a drummer. Danny Alexander is a drummer. I see Tim Farron on kazoo.

On the Conservative side, the suggestion last week that George Osborne has given up any ambitions of succeeding David Cameron (so obviously a lead vocalist) and is ready to weigh in behind Boris Johnson is off the mark – and is the wishful thinking of Boris’s allies. I understand Osborne does still plan to run for the top job. Yet even if he wants to lead the band, the Chancellor is quite clearly a drummer – keeping to the score of austerity on the economy, yet nothing flashy.

Theresa May remains a strong contender, despite the same old complaint from Tory backbenchers that she lacks charm in the tea room. I don’t think this perceived drawback matters, actually. If Conservative MPs can put aside their own egos and think who would be the best person to appeal to the broadest electorate, they would – and should – vote for the Home Secretary. At the moment, she is the equivalent of a standout lead guitarist such as Slash or Johnny Marr – often trying to steal the limelight with long solos.

So what about the London Mayor? A natural lead singer, one might think, with his flamboyance and popular appeal. However, given the seriousness of the job of prime minister, there is a risk Johnson would end up being more of a maraca-wielding dancer, like another person who has ambitions for Parliament – a man named Mark Berry, better known as Bez of Happy Mondays.

Clinton’s call to arms

In an interview with the Evening Standard, Dame Tessa Jowell reveals that she was told by her friend Hillary Clinton, when the pair were discussing whether they were going to run for, respectively, mayor of London and president: “No guts, no glory”.

This is a wonderful phrase and is the surest indication yet that Clinton will run for president in 2016. But does it pay to be brave in politics? Ed Miliband stood up to Rupert Murdoch and big business, and is not exactly reaping rich rewards as a result. Nick Clegg had the courage to admit he was sorry over tuition fees, yet it didn’t win him any political capital. Cameron stuck with gay marriage and foreign aid against fierce opposition from many Tory MPs, and these policies are exploited by Ukip.

Miliband called the Prime Minister “frit” last week over his refusal to take part in the TV election debates without the Greens. Cameron is not frit, he just doesn’t want to give away any more votes to Nigel Farage. But, despite the stalemate over the debates, I believe that the PM will, after all, take part, because he simply won’t have any choice.

No toast for Cameron

Anyone who works in Parliament is vulnerable to what they call the “Westminster stone” – this is the amount of weight an MP typically puts on within a year of arriving at the Commons. Last week, Cameron revealed he was giving up bread to shed some pounds. Pretty uncontroversial, you might think, but the Federation of Bakers is pretty cross.

Its director, Gordon Polson, says: “Cutting bread from the diet could lead to compromising other essential nutrient intakes, such as fibre, calcium, protein and magnesium. For those keeping fit, such as David Cameron, who is a keen runner, starchy foods such as bread are crucial for keeping energy levels up.

“Not to mention that bread is packed full of dietary fibre, keeping you fuller for longer, which could help Mr Cameron resist the temptation of reaching for that mid-afternoon snack or nibbling between meals.”

The federation also quotes dietician Lucy Jones, who says anyone who gives up bread – which is rich in fibre – risks (there’s only one way of saying this) constipation. Crumbs.

But there is a wider risk to Cameron’s long-term economic plan, surely? Bread is part of what makes Britain great. Before the soggy bottom falls out of the bread market, perhaps Cameron should use his loaf a bit more without making a wholemeal of it (sorry, sorry and sorry).

I spy a cuddly toy

TV cameras were allowed to film inside GCHQ for the first time on Friday, as part of a PR push by the spy agency. It looked like a call centre, or a newspaper or TV newsroom. I was brought up short, however, by a Gruffalo soft toy on one spy’s utilitarian desk. Is this a sign that even the most serious of workplaces cannot escape the cuddly toy desk epidemic? Or is Britain trying to outwit its enemies by using the psychological warfare techniques of the big bad mouse?

Twitter.com/@janemerrick23

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