Meet Labour’s Kylie Minogue
I’ve been getting all sorts of interesting correspondence since signing up as a Labour Party supporter last week in order to support Jeremy Corbyn and join the fightback against stale political centrism.
But by far the most amusing to date was a missive from Alan Johnson’s mailbot, desperately promoting his favoured choice for Labour’s London mayoral candidate. You could almost be forgiven for thinking that he had discovered a genuinely inspirational candidate, from the effusive sales pitch:
It starts with a look. Then a double take. Then a smile. A moment to work up the confidence and then they come over. Tessa cannot leave the house without meeting new people who want to say hello. I have seen this a hundred times, and believe me it’s not normal – no other politician inspires such warmth.
Tessa is a star. She is Labour’s Kylie – everyone loves her and she only needs a first name. She has a remarkable way with people that generates real affection. But that’s not why I’m backing her to be Mayor.
I backed Tessa right from the start because she has the right values to make London a fairer place to live. Through Sure Start and the Olympics she has a record of delivery that is second to none, and I know she can beat the Tories.
And today, I’m more sure than ever. But it’s not just because the opinion polls show she’s the only candidate who can beat the Tories – though they do and by a country mile. It’s because she has set out a genuinely compelling vision.
The “genuinely compelling vision” apparently was not so compelling that it made the main body of Alan Johnson’s email, but put that aside for a moment.
Labour’s Kylie. Can you guess who Alan Johnson is talking about? Give yourself ten points if you said Tessa Jowell, former Culture Secretary and Olympics Minister. But I’m guessing that you didn’t. Because I doubt that anyone other than a die-hard Labour activist or a particularly irate constituent has ever spotted Tessa Jowell across a crowded room and felt compelled to introduce themselves.
But apparently “no other politician inspires such warmth”. Perhaps so. But if being politely ignored by the majority of the people when MPs are so widely reviled marks a politician out as being unusually charismatic according to the depressingly low bar we now set for our leaders, I would hate to see what unpopularity looks like.
(We actually already know: unpopularity looks like Nigel Farage and his young family being forced to flee the pub where they were enjoying Sunday lunch, hounded away by a baying mob of moralising, self-righteous anti-UKIP protesters).
Does anyone really take this stuff seriously? Even Alan Johnson can’t actually believe that if he hypes Tessa Jowell enough that he can power through the sheer ridiculousness of it all and establish her as some kind of rock star candidate, surely?
What’s wrong with campaigning as an ideologically bland, politically inoffensive technocrat who promises to keep a steady hand on the tiller and do whatever the focus groups say? It certainly works in in our national politics – unless Jeremy Corbyn manages to prove himself the exception to the rule by getting himself elected leader of the Labour Party.
Tessa Jowell’s reputation as a New Labour machine politician is about all she has going for her – there’s no point running away from it in the hopes of rebranding herself as a fiery outsider here to shake things up and create “One London“, whatever that means, it’s far too late for that. But sadly, Alan Johnson’s cheerleading routine for Tessa Jowell is just a preview of the political establishment’s developing response to the rise of Jeremy Corbyn.
The establishment have watched Jeremy Corbyn’s rise and taken a lesson from it – the wrong lesson, but a lesson nonetheless. They have decided that Corbyn is doing so well because he ‘does’ authenticity in a way that the other candidates do not (note the fact that authenticity is seen as something to be ‘done’, an appearance to put on, and not simply a way of being). And so people like Alan Johnson must pretend that their favoured candidate for London mayor has similar ‘authentic’ rock star status, despite the lack of any evidence to support this assertion.
Got a stable of lacklustre, uninspiring candidates jostling to become the Labour candidate for Mayor of London? Simply pretend that they are exciting visionaries who draw vast crowds who hang off their every word, just like Jeremy Corbyn. Never mind that it’s not true, it’s out there now on the internet – ‘Tessa’ is just like Kylie.
It works on the other side too. George Osborne, thanks to his endless repetition of the phrase “long term economic plan” and public insistence that he is somehow tackling our national debt, is able to spin a reputation of economic competence for himself, despite presiding over persistent budget deficits and an unprecedented growth in the national debt.
We can all accept a little hyperbole in politics – it comes with the territory when the stakes are high, careers are at stake and the future direction of the country hangs in the balance. But we need to save the bold talk for big occasions – or worthy subjects. And comparing Tessa Jowell to Kylie Minogue loads down the unremarkable career politician with expectations that she can never hope to meet.
Alan Johnson’s risible attempt to portray Tessa Jowell as some kind of political Jesus figure, with starstruck onlookers crowding round to hear her talk about the housing crisis, does Jowell more harm than good because it renders her ridiculous-looking. Quite simply, no one can believe it to be true.
In the end, the strained enthusiasm of Johnson’s starstruck endorsement may well come to be one which Tessa Jowell regrets.