Leo can put the heart into Tony Blair's lost hinterland
Welcome, Leo. You've given everyone something to smile about. The peace plan in Northern Ireland may be in peril again, Sierra Leone still in crisis, and football hooligans bashing each other in; but amid the voices of gloom and doom, your birth at the Chelsea and Westminster raised a little cheer.
You may not be quite the "most politically important baby since the reign of Henry VIII", but you're very obviously needed. You're the crowd-pleaser Papa had to have to fend off his slipping popularity; and you're the happy distraction from the dour business of problem-busting - whether it be crime, asylum-seekers or the NHS. Moreover, you're here to remind us of the Prime Minister's hinterland.
A politician's hinterland is all-important, as Denis Healey once said. If the politico didn't show an interest in something outside the Pugin playpen, everyone saw him as a sad bastard who needed to get a life. The hinterland provides, like shading in a drawing, depth: the illusion of a third dimension to the otherwise flat image. It may be made up of different elements: an amateur interest, a sport, even a collection will do. Churchill had his watercolours (as did Hitler); Harold Wilson had, or claimed to have, his football (as does Gordon Brown). And Healey was virtually a Renaissance man - keen on literature, music and even the odd journalistic assignment. These pursuits don't necessarily add gravitas to the politician, or prove his judgement. But they do reassure the public that their man or woman is not just a careerist politico whose breadth of interest stretches between Westminster and Whitehall, and who plots late into the night his retort to the barb received today in the House.
The hinterland is necessary not because it lends a populist touch to the Olympian, but because ordinary folk increasingly think of politics as a dirty game, and don't want their representatives mired in its muck. New Labour has expanded the hinterland to become the heartland: no longer limited to an area of pleasurable pursuits, it now includes emotional space. This may be because the Cabinet boasts only a few well-rounded individuals who enjoy plays or sketch sea views; or because the PM's touchy-feely ways were not as much an act adopted during the campaign as a natural extension of his personality and that of those he gathered around himself. In any event, new Labour's big names all tend to their emotional heartland; and their leader positively encourages them to do so. There is Clare Short, whose highly combustive temper and highly charged reunion with her adopted son have been played to the hilt, conveying a warm-hearted and rebellious persona that defies any notion of sinister spin. There is Mo, with her cancer and her unemployed husband. Her hugs and kisses suggest a kind heart, while her outrageous expletives speak of someone who shoots from the hip. Who better to counter accusations of a calculating, power-crazed government machine? And for a while, there was Tony himself: a protective paterfamilias who went to church on Sundays, was visibly moved when the Princess of Wales was killed, and who sought to visit Kosovo and share in the pain of the war victims there.
But it has been some time now since the public has had a glimpse of Tony's hinterland - or heart; and the rumblings of discontent have grown alarming as they portray a power freak at once hard and shallow, obsessed with focus groups but out of touch with people.
So welcome, Leo: what better way to fix the fixers' image than to produce a baby? Who can say Papa's a superficial lightweight who dances now to Alastair's tune, now to Mandy's, when here you are, proof of his deep commitment to the family and the future? And who would believe in a control freak when here he stands, surrounded by the spewing, screaming mess that is you? Your first lesson learnt, then, Leo: the hinterland is key. Those who have it, flaunt it; those who don't, fail.