The people - and our TV and radio - will be a thousand times sadder without Sir Terry Wogan. The contribution he made to broadcasting, to charity, but more importantly to millions of people’s ordinary lives is incalculable, and he will be sorely missed. His impish wit and charm, his infective smile, his mildly self-deprecating approach to everything he did made him the most loved of broadcasters ever. He seemed just such a nice man in every way.
His characteristics are, in a way, the exact opposite of those of most politicians. We are egotistical, dogmatic, nakedly ambitious, deadly serious, especially about ourselves, and generally not at all nice people to know. Or so the common caricature would have you believe. It is true that I have some colleagues who fill most of those descriptions. They are single-mindedly ambitious for themselves, ready to trim their views for political advantage; subservient to important people, dismissive of the unimportant or marginalised; believing in almost nothing bar themselves, and ready to trample people, thoughts, and beliefs underfoot in their helter-skelter death-defying rush to the top.
There are some like that, for sure. And some of them do indeed make it to the very top. I hope that they are glad of it. But my experience of politicians of all parties and at all levels is overall quite different. Most of us go into politics hoping to make a difference, to help people of all kinds in every way, to contribute to making Britain Great. Some of us achieve at least some of those things (including many who would not be judged a ‘success’ in conventional terms.) And the ones who do really well are nearly also the nicest, most honest and decent.
To name but a few, you would not get better than Sir George (now Lord) Young, Betty Boothroyd, Tony Benn, our local, Lord (Tom) King. And there are dozens more. As a generality, I would say, success is more or less in direct proportion to nice-ness; and the nasty successes are the exception rather than the rule.
What’s more, if you accept, as Enoch Powell opined that “All political careers end in failure,” then you have to ask what it is that the politician would mark as ‘success.’ Is it achieving the highest political rank? Perhaps. Is it winning a vast majority – no doubt very good for the ego as I discovered in the last General Election. Perhaps it’s about being popular with friends and colleagues and constituents?
Or is it about ‘being comfortable in your own skin’ – going to bed happy at night because you have done your little bit, had a pleasant, exciting or interesting time; had good friends, a happy healthy life. Part of that is knowing that you have done those things which will not necessarily ’make your name’ nor advance your ascent of the slippery pole which is politics, but which you know to be true and correct and decent and honest. Being your own man and standing up for the (possibly unpopular) truths you believe in.
Those, I think, were the real qualities which made Sir Terry so phenomenally successful. He was ‘comfortable in his own skin’. He was honest, straightforward, decent to all. I suspect that he dies a happier man that some who may have achieved greater rank or wealth or fame than he, but who had to compromise their principles in order to do so. We will all remember him with affection.