We only have men to choose from really. The next prime minister is going to be either David Cameron or Ed Miliband, regardless of who I vote for. Both men’s parties have enough support to ensure that one of them will form the next government. So as the two prepare to go head to head on TV tonight, it’s worth thinking about who is the better man.
I hate to reduce this to Cameron and Miliband’s genders but let’s face it, that’s what everyone is doing anyway—even if they’re not saying it. Cameron is stronger, they say. Ed is a bit of a sop, they say. These sorts of things are always gendered. People say that female politicians are judged on the basis of their gender—things like, she’s too nice, or too shrill, or trying to be a man, or she looks ugly, or whatever. And they’re correct: women are judged just because they’ve got tits. But men are judged on being men too. They get away with more, and the point is that it’s so-called masculine characteristics that dominate politics and therefore women are judged against these, but men are still judged against them too. So I think it’s justified to take a look.
Here’s what I think about Cameron. He’s one of those ‘boss men’. You’re either with him or you’re weird. He’s quick and articulate, which means he can convince you that you want to do something or believe something before you’ve had time to consider it properly. At worse, he’s a bully. Look how he jeers and mocks his opponents in prime minister’s questions in parliament on a Wednesday lunchtime. (You might say, “Well darling, that’s politics” and that would be true, but I still don’t like him for it.) Cameron is strong, together, balanced. He cannot afford humility. He is not arrogant like Thatcher was arrogant; the times have changed. But equally he is not humble. He won’t listen to you properly.
So what kind of man is he? He’s a boss man. He’s in charge and he’ll do everything he can to retain his authority over you. He’s not a leader who wins hearts and inspires them to follow him. He’s someone who says, I have the right answer and you have the wrong one—which side do you want to be on, chump?
Here’s what I think about Ed. He’s a good guy trying to do good in a bad world. Ed mocks his rivals in parliament too, but he’s not a bully. You don’t get the feeling that he punches down like Cameron does. But still, he plays along with the parliament circus and jeers and shouts and blusters and all those other silly things. Expect more of this from him and Cameron tonight in the debates.
You also get the feeling that a lot of people in the Labour party like him and a lot of people don’t. The lefties believe he’s got their back, even if he has to pander to the right and can’t pull the party or the country away from the right. But some very powerful and popular people in the party think he’s too left-wing. This leaves Ed looking like a disaster who can’t keep his party together. It leaves him looking like he can’t make up his mind. It leaves him looking like a bad leader.
But Cameron looks like a good leader. His party is holding together better, and you get the sense that it isn’t as torn up about which direction to go in as the Labour party is. I guess there are tensions in the Tories about EU membership and, to a lesser degree, climate change. But really their overall vision is pretty solid. Labour’s? Not so much.
So we have to choose between two different men: one a solid leader and the other an indecisive but pleasant guy. My politics lie on the left, so I’d rather a Labour prime minister (actually I’d rather someone on the actual left, but let that pass). What’s funny is when you think about this question like this: Cameron is a good man, but Ed is a good person. Cameron is good at being a man, at being the kind of man that we as society seem to want a man to be. Ed is not good at that. Even when he tries to make fun of his rivals he comes across as the weedy kid at school who’s trying hard to fight the bullies but can’t bring himself to act like them. I want that weedy kid just to be himself. It would mean that he can’t play politics anymore, and we’d be poorer for it.
Maybe he’s trying to change politics from within. I’m quite sure he is. If that’s the case, he’s the bigger person. And he’s far stronger than Cameron.
What a mess!