And therein lies the difference between a political system in which the Prime Minister stands or falls on the support he can muster in parliament and a system in which the chief executive is, to some great extent anyway, considered above – and immune from – such concerns. Furthermore, if such “personalisation of political opposition” does happen more frequently in monarchies** than republics then, dash it, that leaves the monarchies one up and the republics one down.
For many years, the ingenuity of the British press in exploiting the Brown-Blair rivalry story amazed me. What a gift the papers had for conveying that, this time, it was really about to blow. It was good to see last week that this old journalistic warhorse can still be saddled up, with the help of Hazel Blears’s remarks about the Prime Minister’s ‘lamentable’ failure to communicate. To an American audience, Blears’s insistence that she was 100 per cent behind the prime minister would have sounded wholly credible. For us, describing a politician as ‘failing to communicate’, or (in Americanese) ‘not getting his message out’ is what loyalists do. It’s a way of avoiding the alternative explanation, which is that the public hates him. Funny that the press does. Ninety per cent of them were drumming up Brown’s candidacy in the old days. Now, to someone who’s been away only a few months, their contempt is unfathomable, even irrational. On Monday, two daily newspaper cartoonists filled their frames with caricatures of the prime ministerial bum. Maybe this sort of personalisation of political opposition happens more in monarchies than republics.
There is, I grant you, a corrosive quality to the (often warranted) scepticism with which this country views its parliamentarians and it is possible that that this is a Bad Thing, but I confess I find it more appealling and vastly less worrrying than the notion that any American president should be given the benefit of the doubt merely by fact of being President and, thus, the elected Priest-King of All the States.