Yesterday’s video clip of Jo Grimond, under whose leadership the Liberals doubled their number of MPs from ‘hardly any’ to ‘a few’, reminded me of an important but all too rare asset for party leaders in a country where elections are decided by a few floating voters.
Although my mother was a Tory, she was by no means the only one I knew who liked Jo Grimond and regarded him as a 'thoroughly good egg.'
Thousands of others from different parties thought much the same of Margaret Thatcher, Paddy Ashdown and Tony Blair, all of whom enjoyed high levels of respect, however grudging, from voters who were not their party’s ‘natural’ supporters.
When Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair, I started trying out this idea that some politicians have an indefinable appeal to voters across party lines on (an admittedly non-random sample of) people – and was amazed to discover how many ‘natural’ Tories said things like “I liked Blair and was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I don’t feel the same about Brown. "
Which brings me to another question prompted by yesterday’s vintage interview, namely which other party leaders have had the benefit of the ‘je ne sais quoi’ factor enjoyed by Grimond, Thatcher, Ashdown and Blair?
I don’t think Heath, Callaghan, Major, Kinnock, Smith, Kennedy or Campbell had it (Vince Cable almost certainly has it, but can't be counted because he was only a temporary leader).
Nor, as far as I can see, do I think that any of the three party leaders currently getting up steam for the next election have it either.
But it would be interesting to know whether others have the same impression - and, if so, why?