Why we need to fake authenticity
I always wanted to be in a band but an inability to sing, play an instrument, dance or disguise my lack of stage presence held me back. Which is why I’ve always so admired Celine Dion.
So whenever a more gifted friend of mine holds a gig in a sticky-floored pub I’m always first in line, because it’s a rare chance to vicariously experience a midlife crisis through someone else’s efforts.
But when I watched my drummer mate Stephen and his hugely talented band debut their self-penned songs in a West London pub last night, I couldn’t stop thinking about fridges. Well Ed Miliband’s fridge anyway.
It’s quite hard to fake authenticity. What I mean is, we all want to be someone that we’re not, we all have at least one different persona we occasionally let out of the locked cupboard. Stephen’s is to be a drummer in a rock band. I’ve no doubt that if he quit his day job (although we’d all be poorer for it if he did), he’d be good enough. Because even though he’s just a normal middle class, mortgage/school fees-burdened bloke, he’s talented enough to look like an intense, sweaty, possibly unhinged drummer.
For a brief moment, he can fake authenticity. It’s not really him yet at the same time it is a him that he wants to inhabit. Mine is to be Larry David and allow my obnoxious truth-telling to lead me into nonsensical fights that, arms outstretched and hands facing upwards, I can’t for the life of me understand how I came to ignite. It’s not really me but it kind of is.
Ed Miliband, on the other hand, is the most inauthentic fake in politics today – and that’s saying something. David Cameron can fake normality and make us forget his elitist, aristocratic heritage by licking a spoon caked in Hellman’s mayonnaise inside his luxurious kitchen, the fruits of a fabulously successful and well-connected career. He’s not really normal but he knows that to fake things effectively you need to have a semblance of authenticity. ‘I’ve got a big kitchen because I’m successful, so what? Don’t you want one too?’
Ed, on the hand, seems afraid to be his other-self, probably because he doesn’t think his real self is terribly appealing. He’s privileged, geeky, intelligent, Jewish, angsty, wildly ambitious, slightly paranoid and probably far more down-to-earth and socially aware than his opposite number. But everyone around him has obviously told him that that won’t win him enough votes. He needs to be ‘normal’ and drink a dull cup of tea in a dull mug, inside his dull kitchen, with his dull clothes and dull face. Because we’re all like that, say his advisers – it’s authentic. Except it isn’t. It’s see-through fakery.
Stephen can fake being a drummer because he secretly wants to be one. I can fake being Larry David because I am him (with more hair but slightly less money and talent). Cameron can fake being normal because deep down he’s a wonderful actor with a canny sense of what makes good PR. But Miliband can’t fake ‘normality’ because he fears it. He thinks telling his story – a remarkably aspirational story to be fair – will alienate people outside of his pampered metropolitan bubble.
But why? Son of penniless immigrants who fled to this country because it offered a safe haven. No doubt bullied at school for his nebbishness but overcame that to rise to the top of his class thanks to the rewards of both his and his parents’ hard work. Ended up working for and learning from a man once thought of us far more competent than George Osborne (whose fakery was apparent the moment he ditched his birth-name, Gideon). And, smarter and more ruthless than his arrogantly complacent brother, he became so successful that he bought a nice house, married a nice lawyer and installed two lovely nice kitchens so he can sit in one and do the washing in another.
It’s an authentic, aspirational British story of rising from nothing to everything against the odds, which is not something to hide. As opposed to Cameron’s barely-disguised sense of entitlement, which he has trouble hiding.
But instead of telling that story, Miliband wants to pretend to be someone else. Someone ‘more’ normal. Yet he doesn’t have the wherewithal to fake it. Crucially – and he hasn’t realised this yet – he doesn’t have the need to, either. His real persona is a more trustworthy vote-winner than his fake one.
Perhaps he ought to find an old T-shirt, slip on a faded pair of jeans and audition for Stephen’s band. If Ed can’t fake musical prowess, I’m pretty sure they need a highly-educated roadie. The next gig’s in Oxford. Very rock ‘n’ roll.