POLITICS is show business for ugly people, or so the saying goes. Just who coined the phrase is difficult to say for sure. Some sources suggest a Texas political consultant called Bill Miller.
The two activities do share the need to be noticed. Both tribes thrive on attention: without it their reason for being disappears. Stars want us to see their film, watch their play, and politicians want us to vote for them.
You could also say that politics was show business for boring people. Whether politics actually is boring or not is a matter of taste. It is certainly important, history on the hoof, the history of tomorrow happening right now before our all too indifferent eyes.
But politicians, they can be a grey lot. Perhaps that is why they are prone to being seduced by those from outside their dull circle.
Seduction is perhaps a fitting way to put it with regards to Michelle Mone, the Scottish lingerie queen who has become David Cameron’s latest tsar. Her story is certainly a good one. She grew up in a one-bed tenement flat in Glasgow. There was no bathroom so young Michelle had to wash at the swimming baths. She left school at 15 without any qualifications, and rose to become what a newspaper profile at the weekend termed “one of Britain’s most visible entrepreneurs” fronting her Ultimo brand.
David Cameron met the lingerie supremo at a Downing Street lunch for Scottish executives before the referendum, and Mone later put her push-up bra cleavage behind the No campaign.
The prime minister was obviously impressed, as he has now appointed Mone as his latest business adviser. You may recall that this follows Carol Vorderman as the so-called maths tsar, Tamara Mellon, co-found of Jimmy Choo, as a “global trade ambassador”. Mary Portas has advised on shops, while the designer Anya Hindmarch was touted as another trade ambassador. Rumours that Miss Piggy was hired to offer dietary advice to the nation can be dismissed.
Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, seems to be the epitome of the boring politician – or he would do if his thin-skinned tedium didn’t so often result in harsh and unfeeling policies. Anyway, Iain is clearly star-struck or cleavage-dazzled or whatever by Mone, saying: “There’s no one I can think of that’s better qualified to help young entrepreneurs from deprived backgrounds to turn a good idea into a flourishing business.”
Well, maybe or maybe not. Mone is one of those people you hear about occasionally and think, “Oh, yes, her.” Her life seems to be a storybook tale of success built from nothing but her own determination. But like all such tales it contains much clever self-mythology: in the end Mone, like most such people, is her own product. As always with such striking ascents, she has her detractors: all the way from Rod Stewart (“A devious, publicity-seeking son of a bitch”) to Glasgow-based company director Douglas Anderson, boss of the GAP Group, who reportedly wrote to the prime minister to complain that Mone was a “small-time businesswoman” whose businesses were “excessively over-promoted PR minnows”.
Cameron took so much notice of this caution that there is talk of a Tory peerage for the lingerie queen.
Politicians are much taken with gimmickry, none more so than our whim-surfing prime minister. Good luck to Mone, but I can’t see much coming of this. What she knows is how to live the life she’s led. Whether or not that translates into useful advice for people who don’t happen to be Michelle Mone is debatable.
I suspect that she is a tsar too far.