The good news is that Gordon Brown has broken with the recent tradition which requires party leaders to name Ian McEwan as their favourite novelist. Rather less welcome is the revelation that one of the first things he will do once he becomes Prime Minister is to read a children’s book, the final Harry Potter adventure by J K Rowling.
Of course, there are many adult Potter fans, or “Potties” as perhaps they should be known. They can be seen on trains, rapt and absorbed, transported back to a simpler world of dorms, pals, and the sun-dappled gardens of childhood. It is rather touching, in a slightly creepy way.
But among politicians, Gordon Brown had always seemed reassuringly adult. One can only assume that, among his image-shapers, being a grown-up is now seen as an electoral liability. They want their man to be cosier, more approachable, and the first step has been to present him as a Potty, in touch with his inner tweenie.
If Brown the Chancellor is to be transformed into Gordon the friendly PM, this carefully prepared Rowling name-drop is only the start. Out here, the world is a playground and being adult is regarded as highly suspect. There is a new Big Brother starting tonight on Channel 4. Gordon should have one of his advisers on permanent BB-watch, updating him on who has snogged whom and on the latest moronic catchphrases. Statistics show that the national IQ drops by several points while this celebration of stupidity is shown on TV every night. It is the perfect opportunity for Gordon to prove that he is not so intelligent as to be out of touch with ordinary people.
He must show he cares and put his heart on public display. The lapel of his suit should be stippled by the pins of various ribbons and bows, supporting the heartstring-tugging cause of the moment. Beside the real politics of complexity and decision-making, there exists a thriving T-shirt politics, in which everything can be reduced to a simple, brief, emotional slogan.
The new Prime Minister will not have the figure to wear a T-shirt but a whole range of brightly coloured charity wristbands and protest bracelets are available. A flash of bright green or pink beneath the cuff of his shirt will reassure voters that Gordon is a politician of heart as well as brain.
At some point (and admittedly this is a tough one), Gordon is going to have to cry in public. It should not be the full waterworks, like Roger Federer after he won Wimbledon for the first time, but a manly catch in the throat, a momentary loss of words, a glint of tear in the eye, followed by a non-nonsense blowing of the nose. If Gordon really is, as we have been told, a sensitive man, then it needs to be seen upfront and on camera. A gentle heart, unnoticed by the public, is a waste of everybody’s time.
There will be other important priorities in the defrosting of Gordon’s image. An appearance on Richard & Judy, in which he lets his guard down and reveals the man beneath the politician, is obligatory. It might be sensible for the occasional glass of beer or whisky to be in camera-shot: the British like their public figures to enjoy a drink.
Finally, there is the tricky question of Gordon’s hair. Most of the time, it looks like that of a school swot who is too busy to comb it and gets it cut at Budget Barbers on the high street. Paradoxically, his hairstyle needs to grow up while the rest of him becomes cuddlier, softer and more childlike.
Grow your own celebrity
More than 40 years ago, Ringo Starr commented that Jeffrey Archer was the kind of man “who’d bottle your pee and sell it for a fiver”. As ever, the scribe of Grantchester was ahead of his time.
This week the Nobel Prize winner Dr James Watson is to be presented with a DVD containing almost every detail of his personal genetic structure, or genome. The next step, biotechnologists have excitedly announced, is to make the genomes of the famous – Wayne Rooney and Kate Moss et al – available to the public.
It seems perfectly appropriate. Just as the bones of the saints were revered in the Middle Ages, so the inner workings of footballers and models will soon be drawing worshippers to the shrine of celebrity.
* There will be disgruntled mutterings among the more old-fashioned authors at the news that the writing of books is to be given the reality show treatment. Next year, those who dream of writing a bestseller will be able to compete on ITV for a contract with British and American publishers and a six-figure advance. The show is to be presented by Simon Cowell’s brother Tony and will involve contestants being “mentored” by successful authors.
Can writing a book really be made to seem exciting? Of course not. But the creation of a modern bestseller, with its emphasis on marketing, looks, promotion and packaging has more to do with showbusiness than with sitting at a desk. Compared to other talent programmes – the BBC’s recent exercise in finding a Maria for The Sound of Music, for example, the writing version of Pop Idol will have a huge advantage: almost everyone watching will believe that they can write a book. The show will also give egotists within the publishing industry the chance to show off. It is difficult to see how it can fail.