Tony Blair (and wouldn't I like to see his Hamlet at the RSC) is perhaps as good an actor as any of them, and he gave an Oscar-winning performance to Chilcot last week, complete with heavy make-up. But the actor who personified the New Labour brand is seen as just that by the public; an actor. The bloke who did the TV ads. The voice and face of the product. And the British public loathe him.
A poll in the Mail post-Chilcot (which means they must have polled yesterday), 8 out of 10 people believe he lied to Chilcot; 70% think the Iraq invasion was illegal, and 28% want to see him prosecuted for war crimes. The Mail piece concludes;
The survey makes clear Mr Blair will go down in history as the man who took us into a bloody war in Iraq –87 per cent say the conflict will ‘always overshadow’ his decade at No 10. Worryingly for Gordon Brown, nearly one in four say it will make them less likely to vote for him.The fact that only a quarter admit that Blair has contaminated the Labour brand is perhaps good news for Brown, who has subtly tried to re-brand New Labour to distance him from Blair, and bad news for those who are debating bringing Blair back to campaign for Labour.
News is not all good for the Conservatives, either. Since all three main parties ceased being mass-membership political parties and were reborn as consumer brands funded by foreign governments, oligarchs and unions, each have increasingly relied on the leader being the voice and face of the brand. Although Brown has the same effect as Ian Huntley advertising Cadbury's Creme Eggs, neither Clegg nor Cameron can summon up any degree of public affection.
And this reflects the iron rule of casting; the actor chosen for the TV ads must be credibly associated with the product. Thora Hird for stairlifts, gritty Northerners for Hovis. Casting Cameron as Conservative leader was hoped to have the same effect on the brand as casting Blair to lead Labour; to re-juvenate the brand, to promote a new, improved formula. But it hasn't worked. Following the disaster of Cameron's recent posters, voices in Golden Square's offices must have exclaimed "we've cast the wrong bloody actor".