Brian Edwards Media

Posts Tagged 'Politicians'

In praise of television and the television interviewer!

Fearless Lantern-jawed TV Interviewer 1969

Browsing through the TV channels in our hotel room in Singapore I came across an interview with Lindsay Tanner, a former Finance Minister in Kevin Rudd’s Labour Government, who resigned from parliament when Julia Gillard deposed Rudd in June 2010. Much of the interview concerned public criticisms which Tanner had recently made of the Gillard administration, but what interested me most were his comments on the trivialisation of politics by the media and, in particular, the media and public obsession with the image of political leaders rather than the substance of their parties’ policies and record in office.  

He’s right of course. It would be much better if we interested ourselves in policy and performance rather than personality when deciding which political party to support and vote for. But it isn’t going to happen. Television and,  to a much lesser degree, radio have seen to that.

As late as the year 1BT (‘Before Television’’), which in this country was 1959, most voters’ familiarity with politicians was  limited to hearing them speak in Parliament, seeing their picture in the paper or attending a public meeting around election time. The voter had, if you like, a fairly long-distance view of the people running the country. Television, both literally and figuratively,  would reveal them in ever more extreme close-up. Personality politics was born.  Read the rest of this entry »


Does it matter how a political leader looks? I offer some free advice to Phil and John

Does it matter how a political leader looks? The simple answer is: probably not a lot. But given that the difference between winning and losing an election may be no more than one or two percentage points, an  advantage in the attractiveness stakes may be significant. Being plain or physically unattractive, on the other hand, is of itself unlikely to lose an aspiring leader votes.

It isn’t difficult to find examples of this phenomenon. Kennedy, Clinton, Trudeau and Blair were all leaders whose good looks, charisma and sex appeal undoubtedly enhanced their electoral chances. Less attractive men – one thinks of Kirk, Muldoon, Lange – suffered no apparent loss of electoral support because of their size or appearance.

My examples are all male, in part because historically men hugely outnumber women among world leaders, in part because the pattern may be different for female politicians.

Sexism undoubtedly plays a role here. A female leader’s looks and grooming are considerably more likely to be commented on and critiqued than her male equivalent. A male MP can look like Quasimodo and display  the dress sense of an unmade bed – many do – but the fact will rarely come up in conversation, let alone be commented on in the media.

There is perhaps no better example of this than Helen Clark whose unruly hair, less than perfect teeth and deep voice were fodder for her political enemies and elements in the media, while her supporters spoke warmly of her beautiful skin and stylish wardrobe. Of less consequence than which side you were on in this debate is the remarkable fact that the debate not merely took place but began when she first entered parliament in 1981 and was still going when she left in 2008.   Read the rest of this entry »