Why We Want Our Leaders to Pass the 'Man Test'

Why We Want Our Leaders to Pass the 'Man Test'

We all have that moment, as a child, when the realisation comes that every other dad is not quite like our own.

Mine came early. I was talking to a near neighbour about football. His reply was particularly terse: "Sorry Mark. I don't know much about it. In fact I don't really like sport at all."

The exchange must have been fairly traumatic as I still remember it vividly almost 35 years later.

In our household sport was everywhere. It didn't matter what was available on TV, we watched it. My earliest memories are dominated by recollections of meticulously following the Moscow Olympics with my dad and two older sisters, and cheering on Coe, Ovett and Alan Wells.

In the days before live football on TV - that started in 1984 - Saturdays meant food shopping in the morning, Football Focus, lunch, then rugby league and then final score. Charlie's Angels wasn't too bad afterwards either. There was nobody in Tadcaster who looked like Jaclyn Smith.

I am now 41 yet I still get a feeling of slight unease when I strike up a conversation with a stranger and they aren't into sport. It just doesn't feel quite right; in the same way those people who like Formula One, only tend to like motor racing.

But being a sports nut is normally a great icebreaker. Thankfully the overwhelming majority of the population have a healthy interest in it. Without wanting to sound too sexist, it is, after all, a manly thing to do. Us in the less fairer sex generally like sport, guitar music, comedy and a quiet life. We'd rather do anything else than go to an out-of-town shopping centre on a Bank Holiday Monday.

No matter how stressful the situation, any 'fan' could tell you his football team, even if he was hanging on to the edge of a cliff by his fingertips while seeing his wife flirt outrageously with Russell Brand.

Which is why many of us sighed and shook our heads in disbelief as we watched David Cameron forget he 'supports' Aston Villa and not West Ham.

Of course the PM's 'brain fade' is illustrative on two levels:

1) Political parties want their big hitters to sound more 'normal'

2) David Cameron knows less about football than the average pet rabbit

But spin doctors are right to worry about point one. One of the main reasons millions of us feel increasingly detached from the political process is we struggle to relate to those in power. They just seem to inhabit a different world to us and they don't do themselves any favours sometimes.

In 2001 I phoned up a BBC Radio Five phone-in which was discussing why the Tories, under the leadership of William Hague, were doing so badly in the polls. It was just few weeks before the election of that year and I made the point that their three most prominent politicians at that time - Hague, Michael Portillo and Ann Widdecombe - were such odd characters they were turning people off the party.

As I was explaining my rationale I could hear the Conservative guest in the studio screaming "what's that got to do with it" over and over as I pointed out that Widdecombe was an unmarried and proud virgin - nothing strange there - the married Portillo had just admitted to "homosexual experiences as a young person" but wasn't gay - nope definitely not strange - while Hague was that blond 16-year-old boy wowing the crowds at the Tory conference 20 years earlier - hey... who hasn't?

Collectively they were impossible to relate to but the character of our politicians is very important. It explains, in part, while Blair did so well. He actually does like football and music and you could almost imagine being able to have a good 'blokey' chat with him. It feeds into the mix when determining whether we like certain people and it is obviously a natural thing to want our elected representatives to be likeable as well as capable and trustworthy.

At the start of the campaign Ed Miliband faced an audience of young voters at the offices of Microsoft. He was asked what 'life experiences, outside of politics' prepared him for his successful political career. There was a long pause and all he could come up with was his short 'sabbatical' lecturing on economics at Harvard and his time as a special advisor to Gordon Brown.

Wow Ed! Such a varied life you've led.

More recently David Cameron was being interviewed by Andrew Marr, who asked what sports he likes. The PM stumbled over his words before saying 'walking' and 'fishing'. No mention of his beloved Villa and his many afternoons stood on the Holte End wishing he had a beard like Peter Withe.

What a surprise!


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