Earlier this year I was introduced to a fantastic way to describe great politicians. I'm not talking about those who merely get to the front line of political life; we're talking the cream of the crop. It's an American term so necessarily a bit cheesy - but it works. The guy who talked me through what makes a true political athlete had worked with many of the top operators of the last 20 years, including running a Presidential campaign, so he knows.
Political athletes are once in a generation. They are great communicators, quick witted and quick thinking but also are individuals who 'get it'. They instinctively know what people are feeling and what they and their families need at that point in time. They also have an aura about them so, even in these days of focus group decision making, you get the feeling they're making decisions from their gut.
Sometimes it is easier describing something by giving an example of who, or what, they are not. Gordon Brown is the perfect example. He rose to be Prime Minister, was a voracious political animal all his political life, but he most definitely is not, or has never been, a political athlete. Others like him of recent times are Peter Mandelson, John Major, Michael Howard, Paddy Ashdown, Norman Tebbit or Neil Kinnock. All great political performers but all with something lacking stopping them from being a true athlete.
Examples of true political athletes include Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton or JFK in the US. Here in Britain it would be Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. All had the power to inspire and enthrall. My American friend likened it to casting your eye along a group of politicians, after a while you will naturally be drawn towards one above all the others. Upon who your gaze settles is likely to be a political athlete.
What is also interesting about this concept is that political athletes, like sporting athletes, need to train to reach their peak. They will suffer setbacks, false starts, or fail to jump the occasional hurdle. All this will only make them stronger. While a lesser politician will falter and fall off the pace, challenges give an extra yard of speed to the athlete.
On a recent visit to Total Politics HQ, I was given a publication summarising 'The Class of 2010'. It's a great little book summarising the careers so far of all the new MPs who entered Parliament in May. One of these may be a future Political Athlete in the making. I wonder who?
Check in tomorrow for my predictions.