From Boris Johnson to Tracy Brabin - elections show the public want personality from our politicians: Sarah Todd

POLITICAL pundits have spent the last week analysing Labour’s crushing defeat at the Hartlepool by-election.

Boris Johnson showed the cheeky side to his character when visiting Hartlepool after his party's by-election win.

Farming and rural life is this correspondent’s specialist subject, but it’s obvious even to this country bumpkin that personality – or rather lack of it – is at the heart of this particular political problem.

Like him or loathe him, our Prime Minister Boris Johnson has a big personality.

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There are more people than me who couldn’t give two hoots about his expensive flat renovations – we just like 
him.

Boris Johnson with Thirsk farmer Jill Mortimer, the winner of the Hartlepool by-election.

The fact he doesn’t seem to care about his untidy hair, the fact he obviously enjoys the company of attractive women, the fact he’s fun – take the way he smiled and laughed next to the giant inflatable caricature of him up in Hartlepool rather than worrying whether he might look a bit daft in the pictures – are all, for this voter at least, hugely appealing.

With the exception of Tracy Brabin, Labour has become a party of the bland leading the bland.

Tracy looks like the sort of strong woman with a heart of gold straight out of the northern television soap opera Coronation Street, in which she used to star before becoming an MP.

She comes across as someone who would be damn good fun on a night-out, but if she was upset about something she wouldn’t shy away from saying.

Does Tracy Brabin have the persoanlity to be a good mayor of West Yorkshire?

Once she’s served as West Yorkshire’s first ever Mayor, which there is no doubt she will make a good fist of, she should go back to Westminster and who knows how far she could go.

Just looking at Labour’s leader Sir Keir Starmer makes me want to yawn.

When he speaks, there is something about his tone that gives rise to the feeling that, unlike Boris and Tracy, he wouldn’t be much fun on a night-out.

Hardly heavyweight political analysis, but this is the very point – average, everyday people make gut decisions on who they like and who they don’t.

Most of us aren’t looking at the small print of policies, we either feel a certain something for a candidate or we don’t.

Photographs of the victor in Hartlepool, Thirsk farmer Jill Mortimer, made me want to find out more about her.

Well, to be more specific, it was her footwear. There she was, on one of the biggest days of her life, wearing a really sensible pair of long brown leather boots.

She must have known she would be photographed next to the Prime Minister but she wasn’t going to pretend to be anything she wasn’t.

A country woman, she obviously prefers being well-shod and wouldn’t have been true to herself in a pair of fashionable heels.

Politicians can employ all the spin-doctors money can buy, but it’s all to no avail if there isn’t any personality to back it up.

Former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, the boy who failed the 11-plus entrance exam for grammar school and worked as a ship’s steward, had personality by the bucket full.

From running two environmentally-incorrect Jaguar cars to punching someone who threw an egg at him, he always – like him or loathe him – had that bit of something about him.

This week has also made me remember another Labour man Alan Johnson, a Cabinet minister in Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s governments.

Driving home one night years ago he was on the radio, reading an extract from his autobiography This Boy.

In this particular passage he was working as a postman and there was something about his life, from the slums of London upwards, which sent a shiver down the spine.

His tone had a complete lack of any chip on the shoulder. Such a stark contrast to the current breed of career politicians.

Yes, as some of them are forever telling us, they had free school dinners and went to comprehensive schools, but that’s not a get-out-of-jail-for-free card on its own.

The general public still wants a bit of sparkle; a bit of warmth and personality.

Think of John Prescott who, after the aforementioned punching incident, had the cheek to say to then Prime Minister Tony Blair: “I was just carrying out your orders. You told us to connect with the electorate, so I did.”

Then there was Tracy Brabin, her dress slipping off her shoulder as she leaned on the despatch box due to a broken ankle.

Did she whinge about the flack that was thrown in her direction?

No, she put the sexy little black number up for sale in a charity auction and raised more than £20,000 for Girlguiding.

To finish with a glance over the Atlantic, there are some fantastic personality-filled quotes from former presidents.

Bill Clinton’s moral compass may have wavered, but what’s not to like about a man who says: “Being president is like running a cemetery; you’ve got a lot of people under you and nobody’s listening.”

Or Ronald Reagan who, when asked about the deficit, declared himself not worried. “It is big enough to take care of itself...”

They, too, were consummate and charming communicators. And also very successful in their own ways.

Sarah Todd is a former editor of Yorkshire Life magazine.

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