In the wake of the referendum, and the beginning of what is being coined as the Brexit, many people expected this to be Boris Johnson’s crowning glory. Seizing the thunder of the Vote Leave campaign, he boldly declared a new era for Britain. Yet, just a few days later, he was vanquished, beaten by his own party. And despite this, his image overall seems to have almost improved. He is now a victim of political backstabbing, and the likeable comedic ‘BoJo’ seems to have garnered everyone’s sympathies.
As such, this raises a tantalising question. Why is everyone, from the common person to the mass media so
interested in how a politician presents themselves? We seem to ally with the underdog, the less professional and more happy-go-lucky personality, rather than the prim and polished image of a statesperson. Although it was totally the wrong reason to do it, some people voted Leave purely because Boris ‘Man of the People’ had allied with the campaign. The bumbling, stumbling ex-London mayor, responsible for famous quips like ‘I am supporting David Cameron purely out of cynical self-interest’ and ‘My policy on cake is pro having it and pro eating it’ was able through his image and charisma, not only to become Mayor of England’s capital city, but more notably to persuade a majority of the country to make the most momentous political decision in forty years and leave the European Union. What makes a someone who seems so utterly inept at their job so attractive to so many?
And then we come to the absolute other end of the spectrum. A politician can destroy any hope of career with a single step, slip of tongue or action because of mass media. We are in a stage where media controls our lives in such a way, it dictates and watches every move, ready to scrutinise
and pounce whenever it feels necessary. Think back to May 21st, 2014 and Ed Miliband’s bacon sandwich fiasco. An attempt to look normal, to fit in with the working class and tradetional Labour vote. Labour, the word which conjures up images of classic tradesman and builders grafting away, and yet here was a man who could not even eat a bacon butty without creating the caricature of a gurn. While the expression again is almost comical, the internet backlash most certainly was not. The #EdEats campaign created national ridicule for a man going for the top job, and forever left an indelible mark on the rest of the campaign. It even ended up with a Wikipedia page dedicated to the history of the incident.
So why does image matter so much? Probably because of our judgmental nature. We see things like Boris flailing on that zip-wire, and for some it creates amusement, as they imagine the whimsy and wonder of the man’s mind, but equally some may argue it is wholly unprofessional, a fool in guise of a statesman who cannot be trusted with an adrenalin activity, never mind national Government, and certainly not as delicate an issue as Brexit.
Theresa May is the opposite side of the coin. You will not find her associated with internet memes and witty quotes. A quieter lady, who described herself as a reluctant remainer in the referendum. While no-one can deny her political cunning and prowess to avoid getting herself embroiled in a battle against Johnson and Andrea Leadsom (whom I would argue is the only Leave campaigner to come up smelling of roses so far), some might argue this in turn failed to show her support for the Remain campaign, and further causes question marks over her allegiances. She is an iron lady in all senses of the word- a strong stern voice, strict posture and piercing gaze. She does not engage in frivolity, preferring to focus on business- she would point to the amount of action she has achieved since being appointed Home Secretary in 2010 as evidence for this. Then again, the argument still might maintain that she is out of touch with the common person by taking such a mentality- and her constituency being based in the ‘posh’ Royal Borough also may not help this cause. One could say she is aiming to be a clone of Margaret Thatcher in some ways; whether or not this is true cannot be judged yet.
Saying all this, image briefly now becomes irrelevant for May and Leadsom, at least in the public view. For now, they, Gove and Crabb will be focusing on cuter, closer charm-offensives to persuade party members they are the right choice for the future. But whoever wins such a race, will undoubtedly have that microscope on their lives tightened to even more microscopic and minute detail; the stakes are higher and the costs even more so.