Christina Patterson: The new brand of 'human' politician

When did these media-savvy, metropolitan, middle-class middle-youthers start emanating the air of a super-race, charged with the task of tidying the rest of us up?

Wednesday 29 September 2010 00:00 BST

It almost makes you want to live in North Korea. At least there, when a swarthy younger brother is thrust on the nation, you don't have to endure months of mad eyes and fixed smiles, and public mea culpas (on matters of policy you didn't control) and "just a minute" stand-up slots on the subject of "passion" and "change". And when the Dear Leader is finally unveiled, after an election process that Kim Jong-il would surely applaud (one in which some people had 12 votes without even the sniff of a backhander) you don't have to watch a man who has lost in the first three rounds, but scraped through on the fourth, tell the world how much he loves the brother whose dreams he has wrecked.

And you don't have to hear him volunteer, on a programme that's meant to be about politics the next morning, that he loves his brother "very, very much", and you don't have to watch the brother he has defeated, who has the air of a man whose heart has been broken, tell a conference which can't even summon a definite or an indefinite article (but some of us believe in grammar, just as some of us believe that actions speak louder than words) that we have a Great New Leader, and that he is "incredibly proud" of him. At least in North Korea you have a firing squad, which is quicker and cleaner and a lot less painful to watch.

The older brother told the Labour Party, and the world, and his brother, that he will "be fine". Maybe he will. Maybe he won't. Personally, I think it's a shame that a man who is clearly very bright, and highly respected by the most powerful female politician in the world, not to mention extremely dignified in the face of the kind of brotherly love that would have most of us begging our partners to lock away the kitchen knives, will not be around for a weekly David double-act at the despatch box. But never mind him. What about us?

I didn't feel fine at all when, the night before the great unveiling, I watched an idiotic docu-drama called Miliband of Brothers. It wasn't the terrible dialogue, and the cartoonish acting in what was billed as some kind of satire, which, according to my dictionary, is meant to involve humour, that disturbed me. It was the kitchens. With the exception of one guy who was interviewed in a fabulous loft apartment with (of course) a stripped wooden floor and a grand piano, the real-life friends of the Miliboys all popped up in huge, gorgeous, gleaming, and quite possibly hand-crafted, kitchens. They were kitchens to die for, kitchens to propel you to the fridge for a little pick-me-up, kitchens, in fact, to trigger the sad stab of failure.

When did left-wing people start getting kitchens like that? Was it when they ditched "delivery" and "best value" and "stakeholders" and "strategic partnerships" and started talking, instead, about "narrative"? Or was it when they decided, in some secret ballot, that they had a leadership candidate who "spoke human", and was "a human", and started repeating this mantra at all available opportunities, as if it were some startling insight inscribed on a stone tablet, instead of the kind of phrase that makes you think the person using it has spent their life conversing only with online avatars?

And when did they start looking so damned pleased with themselves? When did they start boasting about their confidence, as if boasting was a nice and a good thing, and confidence was a nice and a good thing and not something often entirely inappropriate, not to say damaging? When did they start talking about "the new generation" taking over, as if anyone over the age of 40 should be instantly relegated to a new demographic category, one useful only for research into dementia, and particularly if you've never had a hand-crafted kitchen? When did these media-savvy, metropolitan, middle-class middle youthers start emanating the air of a super-race charged with the slightly tiresome task of tidying the rest of us up?

If it started with the man who, 13 years ago, brought us the "new dawn", then he hid it rather well. Sure, he had his armies of special advisers, and the media rottweiler who he describes in My Struggle, I mean A Journey, as "crazy", and he had the gift for manipulation that he himself has admitted he shared with the princess whose death he handled so adeptly, but he didn't, at least at first, give the impression that he had emerged from some factory, perhaps in Pyonyang, where they make nice, young, upper-middle-class, but also, when required, blokey, male politicians. And nor, of course, did his successor, the one whose closest colleagues and advisers are rushing to rubbish. No strategic political masterplanner would have designed a model like that, which might well have been a shame when it came to little things like bank collapses, because although a politician now has to be "human", that doesn't, apparently, mean someone with a recognisable personality, and maybe some annoying character traits. It's a strictly technical term.

To be "human" means to be called something like Ed or Nick or Dave (which, by the way, is also the name of a peculiar shaped laptop table at Ikea). It means that you have a pretty and intelligent wife or partner, of whom you speak fondly, and at least one small child, and ideally another one on the way. It means that you went to Oxford or Cambridge, where, if you didn't study politics, you did a dissertation on political philosophy soon after. It means that if people ask what you are like, the person who is asked will look a bit confused and then say something like "nice", because no other obvious characteristics will spring to mind, and because people generally find you pretty amenable, not to say charming. It means that you believe in fairness and making things better.

It also means that you are quite flexible about how you do this, so if, for example, you haven't quite managed to win a general election outright, you will instantly drop a lot of the promises you made about how you would do things, and swap them for different ones, supplied by someone who couldn't win a general election in a million years, and who also, in turn, swaps some of the promises he made to his party, particularly about something called a deficit. Or, if you want to be elected as leader of a party which doesn't like talking about things like a deficit, then you try not to mention it and then, even after you are elected, you try to talk about it in terms that won't upset party members, the public, or the trade unionists whose rally on cuts you said you would attend, but now might not.

And it means that there is almost nothing that you wouldn't sacrifice – principles, popularity, a brother – for power.

Yesterday, at a conference as carefully choreographed as the one that was also going on in North Korea, and in front of a backdrop that wasn't red, and a cohort of people who were even younger than him, the new leader of the Labour Party took us on A Journey. He told us about his "mum" and he told us about his "dad". He told us about stealing his brother's football and looking after Harriet Harman's coat. He told us that he believed in community, belonging and solidarity, and that he wanted to build "a society fit for our kids to live in". He told us that he'd swapped a moral compass for an anchor. And he told us that the most important word in politics is "humility". But this, it turned out was another technical term, in this case referring to mistakes made by someone else.

A "new generation" had, he said, taken charge. "We are the optimists," he said, "and together we will change Britain." To me, and perhaps to his brother, whose sad eyes and brave smile can't hide the pain of betrayal, it sounded like a threat.

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