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Performing politics

Updated Thursday, 29th April 2010

Do we want politicians - or do we really want performers instead? William Hague, Glenda Jackson, Quentin Letts and Simon Sebag-Montefiore consider if we're putting artifice ahead of substance.

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Quentin Letts

We say we don’t like actors in our politics, and yet when the politicians don’t act they don’t get so many votes.


If they’re good at performing and they’re good at doing their job then it’s obviously going to make me want to vote for them. 


If you want to achieve anything in this world you have to appeal to the masses and the masses want to see a show.

Barack Obama

While we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism and doubt and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: yes we can. 

William Hague, Foreign Secretary

To some extent, you either do or do not have an innate enjoyment of having an audience.  It’s a bit like, it must be the same gene as enjoying being an actor.

Simon Sebag-Montefiore, Historian

We can see into these people’s eyes, we see every facial expression, we see sweat, we see fear, and it’s about millions of people seeing these things at one moment, and seeing things that you can never take back. 

Quentin Letts

Bad acting in politics is awful, it’s embarrassing. 

George Bush

Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we.  They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we. 

Quentin Letts

Politics is really about this strange cocktail of artificists and authenticity.

Glenda Jackson, Actor and Politician

If you want authentic, remember Neil Kinnock’s speech after we lost the election in ’92, don’t be poor, don’t be old, no-one had written that for him, that came straight out of his heart and his stomach.  Perhaps it’s an indictment of us as people that we prefer imagery to reality.  For me I mean Gordon who I’ve known for a very, very long time is being criticised because he is authentic, because he isn’t touchy feely, because he’s not all things to all men.


Finally Gordon Brown stepped out of the wings.  His first proper turn in the spotlight was almost hidden by an unfortunately placed autocue screen.  It’s not likely that’d have happened under Tony Blair’s team, but if Mr Brown meant this then maybe it didn’t matter.

Gordon Brown

I’ve never believed presentation should be a substitute for policy, I do not believe politics is about celebrity.

Quentin Letts

It’s lucky in a way that Gordon Brown chose to highlight his lack of interest in presentation and celebrity because he made a bit of a hash of that launch, but the difference is one frankly much more important than that trivia.  The difference is if he means what he said.

Glenda Jackson

As Lincoln said you can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, because dishonesty lies will always be found out. 

Bill Clinton

I did not have sexual relations with that woman!

Glenda Jackson

The implication is, correct me if I’m wrong, that acting is a form of lying.  It’s a way of cheating, of manipulating, of essentially deceiving people, and nothing could be further from the truth. 

Quentin Letts

The greatest example of acting in British politics in the last hundred years or so - Winston Churchill. Churchill presented this bulldog character, which was very much at odds with his personal character, and that was an example of how acting could really help the national cause.  You know, it’s too glib just to say acting is bad in politics, acting can be essential.

Winston Churchill

This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning. 




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