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Column: Thunderbird Brown1 March 2010 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar
‘If only the Dutch Prime Minister was a proper bully,’ was my lament when I heard of the commotion about Gordon Brown’s behaviour. Bully Balkenende; it sounds great but doesn’t fit his utterly proper personality.
Recently, the Dutch governing coalition broke up because several cabinet ministers failed to back each other in public. We don’t, however, know if there was much shouting during this process. In as far as we know, no one was pulled from their chair.
After the disintegration of the Dutch government, the Prime Minister as well as the Deputy Prime Minister were keen to report that it had all ended in tears, at least for some members. This was just to show how heartbreaking the whole process had been.
We have to stress that the tears were shed by colleagues of course; the Prime Minister and his deputy, whatever their differences may have been, were keen not to be seen as blubbing politicians.
This shows up the remarkable difference between the Dutch and the British Press. In the UK, the press would have given chapter and verse about the crying incident in no time, and quite often such reports are backed up with pictures.
I sometimes long for these UK practices to be applied to the Dutch political scene. In the UK everything is just that little bit more dramatic. The Prime Minister barefacedly sheds tears during an interview; the Leader of the Opposition follows suit.
The wife of a politician who has sexual relations with a much younger man and helps him to set up his business is widely reported. Unashamedly the abuse of expenses is swiftly exposed, and many a sex scandal does feature the exposed politician committing suicide by hanging himself upside down using his suspenders.
In The Netherlands politicians present a strictly non-sexual image to their voters. They certainly do not cheat and if this unlikely event occurs they resign immediately. As a result they seldom cry in public. In short, they are immensely boring.
Personally I think Dutch politicians are no better than their UK counterparts, it’s just that their activities don’t get reported. You can actually conclude that the Dutch Parliament is part and parcel of the Secret Service, especially when personal matters are at stake.
Now Gordon Brown is a straight descendant from the British TV series The Thunderbirds. I must admit that in the sixties I was the proud owner of Thunderbird 2, you know, the green spaceship with the enormous loading ramp. Thunderbird 1 was much less coveted as it had no moveable parts, actually it was just a plain rocket.
There is a remarkable resemblance between Gordon Brown’s bushy eyebrows and those of the pilot of Thunderbird 1. To create this character the puppet-makers took their inspiration from another Scotsman: Sean Connery.
Gordon Brown, by the way, happens to have a lower jaw that moves quite independently of its owner just like those of The Thunderbirds puppets; you can almost see the controlling wires. However Thunderbird Brown certainly has the capability to explode.
Thunderbird Brown, in the mean time, is unfortunately bereft of his ‘Brains’ – the nerdy scientist who supported the ‘International Rescue Team’. Actually it has been reported that Alistair Campbell, the erstwhile key advisor to Tony Blair, did refer to the Foreign Minister, David Miliband, as ‘Brains’, in tribute to the Thunderbirds character.
It could well be that Brown pines for Alistair Campbell. Now this would create a smashing headline: ‘Thunderbird Brown’s missing Brains’.
So we now know that Thunderbird Brown isn’t that amicable when he deals with his staff. Some have even decided to call him a bully, an intimidator or tormentor you would say in Dutch. It transpired that there have been three or four calls to the National Bullying Helpline from his Downing Street office.
To Dutch ears the name of this helpline sounds quite odd, almost as if they provide assistance to bullies. Now this immediately conjures up the following picture in my mind: ‘Hello, this is the Prime Minister, just calling to see if you can provide any useful hints.’
Whenever he spots a secretary who isn’t nimble enough when using the keyboard or when someone informs him that the details of 20 million people somehow have been lost, Gordon Brown shouts his reply: ‘Thunderbirds are go!’ This is the trigger for lurching across the table or dragging someone from behind a desk.
Personally, I admire Margaret Thatcher. She profoundly demolished the glass ceiling. You can like or loathe her policies but you can’t deny she was the first female UK Prime Minister and she treated her staff well.
Instead her anger was reserved for stubborn foreign dignitaries who, when they incurred her wrath, were firmly slapped on the wrists or shown the iron handbag. If she had to star in The Thunderbirds it would be as Lady Penelope.
In the Dutch press there are currently complaints that politicians show their emotions too often. Not often enough is my firm opinion, but wield your anger at the right person, in which case it is fitting to invoke: ‘Thunderbirds are go!’
© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press
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