At my place of work (the Open University in Milton Keynes), there’s a Wilson building. Only when I went to it last week did I realise the bleeding obvious: that it’s named for Harold Wilson, who has a good claim to have been the prime mover in the OU’s instigation. He is now almost completely forgotten, it seems to me. Yet he was the first politician I trusted (I was 11 or so). What was it, the pipe? (People with pipes were often depicted as trustworthy types – something to do with thoughtfulness. In fact, Wilson was an inveterate private cigar-smoker.)
It strikes me that rationality hardly enters into it when one tries to pinpoint why a politician might or not be trustworthy. Mandelson (‘I’m back!’) never struck me as trustworthy from Day One. Too shifty (terrible stereotype). But Margaret Beckett, she of the caravan club, always struck me as probably the wrong person to argue with, but perfectly sincere.
I found myself at it watching the news, when images of the new and recently departed cabinet members flashed up. (Another bad sign, talking to the TV.) Milliband and Milliband? Ant & Dec. Kelly? Too prim. (Probably that’s sexist, too.) Darling? Seems pretty straight to me. Hoon? Shifty. Harman? Lost the plot. Jowell? Very trustworthy. Straw? Po-faced. Brown? This man has problems.
The last one out of the current Labour hot air balloon for me would be Hazel Blears. There is something don’t-bullshit-me-but-I-am-going-to-keep-smiling about her which I trust. I suspect her of being hard-working and trustworthy. Same (I’m not alone here) with Vincent Cable of the Lib Dems – and Sarah Teather (few agree). I was an admirer of Robin Cook, and of Mo Mowlam.
I was going to go for balance and include some Conservatives, but I can’t do it. I am in the curious position of having voted in 9 or 10 general elections, but having never voted for a candidate on the winning side in the election, and only twice, now I am in the Devonian wilds, for a winning candidate even in the constituency – a Labour voter by instinct voting for a Lib Dem to stop a Conservative. Even in the Blair landslide, when I lived in the Exeter constituency, I failed to back the Labour winner, Ben Bradshaw, because he’d been imposed from Labour HQ, when the local candidate John Lloyd was unfairly trashed by the Daily Mail AND The Guardian. (He had been an anti-apartheid campaigner when 19, and had been gaoled in S. Africa; it was alleged that he had ‘given names’ to the police, with tragic consequences. It was a sad way for John – who would be in the Cabinet now, I promise you – to have his career truncated.) I wrote John Lloyd’s name in, thus spoiling my ballot paper. About a thousand others were said to have done the same.
However, I did once cancel a vote out in a council election. My sister and I spotted that my parents had sneaked up to the polling station (in South Tyneside) to cast their Conservative votes. They kept very quiet all day. With five minutes to go, we nipped up to the polling station, and cancelled their votes out by putting an X next to the Labour man.