The public have understandably tired of untrustworthy politicians who spin the truth and who are happy to find good days to bury bad news. They have grown weary of the relegation of their needs behind the candidates’ insatiable lust for power – US presidential candidate John Edwards was rumoured to spend hundreds of dollars on a haircut – and of their leaders’ love of celebrity over ordinary heroes.
Leader writers have heralded the Brown era as the end of all of this – the triumph of substance over spin. If honest government that puts the concerns of ordinary citizens first is what this entails, then amen to that. So long as spin is not confused with style. All leaders must set the tone of government, not just the agenda.
It was not that Gordon Brown did the right thing after the attempted terrorist attacks in London and Glasgow. It was that he was seen not to panic. In contrast, Blair was seen to do the opposite, suggesting knee-jerk and populist responses to the 7/7 attacks. Yet this same prime minister struck a chord with a grieving nation over the death of Princess Diana, not for doing anything other than empathising, even shedding a tear.
Churchill’s fighting talk lifted the spirits of a frightened nation. His We Will Fight Them on the Beaches polemic did more to steady the nerves than any eventual decision that he took to defeat the Nazis. Witness Churchill’s ludicrous suggestion that the RAF be used to defend France as the Germans marched on Paris. If the air force would not have resisted him, there would have been no RAF to win the Battle of Britain. Yet this was Churchill’s finest hour. His words (“Never has so much been owed by so many to so few”), spoke far louder than his deeds.
Ultimately, how things are said are every bit as important as what is said.