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Dale’s Diary: Why short, fat baldies can forget about becoming prime minister

Dale’s Diary: Why short, fat baldies can forget about becoming prime minister

🕔06.May 2015

Now, here is something that I am fairly confident has not yet been raised for debate at the General Election: “Could a fat, short, bald man ever become prime minister of the United Kingdom?”

This is a highly topical question given today’s World Health Organisation report predicting that 74 per cent of British males will be obese by 2030, up from 70 per cent five years ago. It could be worse.The projection for Ireland is of an 89 per cent obesity rate.

It is, as the WHO says with an apparently straight face, a “crisis of enormous proportions”.

And before I am accused of appalling sexism, there’s an important question to be asked about the chances of Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat parties ever being led by a woman, or someone from a BME background.

They will tell you size, appearance, social background, even gender, doesn’t matter and it is the policies that are all important.

They are being economical with the truth, and not for the first time.

A convincing case could be put that there is little to choose between Cameron, Miliband and Clegg when it comes to policies. There’s certainly hardly any difference at all when it comes to appearance. All are above average height, verging on under-weight if anything, sport luxurious and well-styled heads of hair and dress in expensive but sober dark blue suits accompanied by neutral ties and finished off by highly polished footwear.

Cameron and Clegg are nice ex-public school boys with beautiful manners. Miliband didn’t attend a public school, but has the same air of Oxbridge patrician superiority about him. All three would be bang out of Hollywood’s Central casting unit were the Americans wishing to make a film requiring three standard British political leaders, assuming Hugh Grant wasn’t available.

One of the most successful prime ministers of recent times in terms of elections won was Tony Blair, another tall, slim ex-public school boy who from about 1995 to 2003 appealed to a broad cross-section of voters and gave Labour its most successful period ever. Tory leaders William Hague and Ian Duncan Smith, both severely challenged in the hair department, didn’t fare so well.

Let us suppose, for a moment, that the next exciting political prospect in this country, it doesn’t matter for which party, turns out to be witty, engaging, charismatic even, but having been blessed with these great gifts is also as short as a jockey, as overweight as a Sumo wrestler, as bald as a coot and has a dress sense that would put even Boris Johnson to shame.

This person may have the oratorical ability of a Churchill and the brain of an Einstein, but it is difficult to envisage someone so out of kilter with what has become the accepted blueprint for political leaders ever making it to the top of the greasy pole. Those backing Boris as next Conservative leader may wish to bear this in mind.

Television has much to answer for. Opposition parties spent decades haranguing governments and demanding live TV debates, year after year accusing prime ministers of running scared. Now we have the debates, of a sort, but precious little has been added to voters’ awareness of policy issues. What the debates have done, as could have been predicted, is to feed the cult of personality which dominates politics today.

Back in 2009-10 when David Cameron was going through his green-liberal-ethnic stage and spent much time campaigning in Birmingham, he freely admitted to following a strict diet with the aim of slimming down before polling day. The battle to maintain that weight loss has been a constant feature behind the scenes of his period in office, and for good reason since the unforgiving medium of television exaggerates the weight of those appearing before the cameras.

That didn’t seem to matter so much in the days of pipe-smoking Harold Wilson and tubby Ted Heath, but we have become such a censorious almost Puritanical nation that overweight politicians, perhaps fond of a drink, smokers even, can collect their P45s and find something else to do.

In America, even before the television age, the importance of having a tall Presidential candidate appears to have been understood. Lincoln was almost 6ft 4in, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were 6ft 2in, virtually giants by the standards of the time. More recently, Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Reagan, Clinton, George H W Bush and Obama were more than six feet. Jimmy Carter, derided as a ‘peanut farmer’, was a mere 5ft 9in and served only one term.

We do not have a presidential system of government in this country. Well, if you believe that, you’ll also believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden. In theory, we will go to the polls tomorrow to elect 650 MPs, who then convene in the House of Commons to choose a government and by convention the leader of the party becoming the government visits the Queen and duly becomes prime minister for as long as he or she can retain the confidence of the House.

In reality, as I think everyone understands, we shall be electing a prime minister on May 7. A vote for a Conservative candidate is a vote for Mr Cameron to be prime minister, a vote for Labour is backing for Mr Miliband and a vote for Liberal Democrat carries with it the explicit understanding that the voter wishes to see Mr Clegg as deputy prime minister.

We live for good or ill in an age of short attention spans where a great many of those that can be bothered to vote have only the haziest notion of policies being promoted by the political parties. How much easier and lazier it is to be guided by appearances, personality and the froth of the political circus.

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