April 06, 2008

A Rogue By Any Other Name

My daughter thought the whole thing hilarious. The story behind the resignation of our first minister was being debated on the radio and Lara asked me to tell her what it was all about. I said that questions had been raised about unexplained payments into his bank account which in turn raised the spectre of bribery.

Lara considered this carefully for a minute. Then she giggled. "What is it?" I said. "Bertie," she said, "that's a funny name. And Ahern. Bertie Ahern. He can't have done much wrong."

It's not only my daughter who thinks so. Commentators have been picking through Ahern's political career and marvelling again at how he managed to get away with things for so long. Even on the heels of a great deal of dirty washing being done in public through the tribunals, the prevailing public attitude seems to be one of exasperation rather than anything else.

It's just hard to get angry with him. Despite the fact that he's clearly a sharply intelligent man (I've heard him speak off-the-cuff a number of times in person and have always been impressed by his ready wit), he seems to deliberately cultivate the impression of being somewhat gormless. My daughter's reaction is quite typical. Whilst political opponents ranted and raved these past few months as they tried to get some mud to stick, the man in the street seemed quite bemused by the whole affair. "Poor old Bertie," we thought, "he mightn't have been too clever about how he arranged his financial affairs but he can't have meant to do anything wrong."

This is an interesting tack for a political leader to take. The more usual approach is to play the hawkish statesman, the suave charmer or the wily wheeler and dealer. Bertie chose hapless innocent instead. And almost everyone from my daughter to the voting man in the street was taken in by it.

There might be a lesson there for any brand-owner who's inclined to take what seems an obvious route to the top. Sometimes, force of personality, personal magnetism or razor-sharp mind aren't required to win out. Sometimes, as Bertie has shown over the past ten years and more, amiable likeability is all that's needed.

No comments: