WHAT draws us to people?
What is it we decide to like or dislike about strangers? "I like him" we'll say of a film star, singer or politician whom we've only seen on screen. Or "I can't abide the sight of him". We all know plenty of those.
Of course there are trends. There was a time when Tony Blair could walk on water; hard to imagine now. That was never the case for Peter Mandelson. He was New Labour's answer to Professor Snape – the fixer, the Machiavellian manipulator, the master of the dark arts.
He was the man we all loved to hate. Or should that be you all loved to hate. Me? I had a sneaking fascination for him. I admired his cleverness, his loyalty.
I was in the same room as him once at a crowded charity event. I felt someone looking at me and shifted my gaze to meet the basilisk stare. Then his eyes moved on.
Do I have a weakness for the unloved? I wonder because I have developed another soft spot. This time it's for George Osborne. Stifle those cries of shock and rage. I, too, am horrified by the bedroom tax and fed up with austerity. I, too, have never voted Tory and can't imagine I ever will.
Nonetheless, when I see the jumpy expression on that pasty face just before a speech or an interview, I feel protective. When he stands outside Number 11 Downing Street tomorrow clutching that red dispatch box, I'll spot something of Just William in the youngest Chancellor of the Exchequer since 1886. He holds one of the great offices of state and still walks like a knock-kneed schoolboy.
When I see him interviewed – usually on the Andrew Marr show – he is unfailingly courteous and reasonable and reasoned. He sounds pragmatic, not doctrinaire. I like too the way he can rail at Ed Balls across the dispatch box for political theatre yet speak to him in friendly fashion on Marr's sofa.
I approved of him giggling at The Thick of It when he took a commuter train into London. (What price a politician with a sense of humour?) It was preposterous that he had the wrong ticket but what a fuss over an administrative error.
It was good too that he could laugh when the Paralympic stadium booed him after he turned up to present the prizes for the men's 400 metres. Think how Gordon Brown would have reacted. A portentous dark cloud would have loomed over the proceedings.
Mr Osborne is the man with the most unenviable role in public life today. Even if he succeeds in stoking an economic resurgence his name will probably remain mud. Yet when I hear him speak he seems to me to be saying: "I'd like life to be easier but this, in my judgment, is our best option right now."
Is he right or wrong? My jury is still out. But what would you or I be doing in his shoes? I hear no magic solutions – any solutions in detail – from the Opposition front bench.
Mr Osborne is a posh boy who doesn't know the price of milk – or so Nadine Dorries accused. He is indeed a posh boy but so what? I thought we were supposed to be above castigating people for the bed they're born into. I really don't get the logic of each generation struggling to better the lot of their children if – after you have made it – all your children can expect is hostility.
His family has an old Irish baronetcy but his father started his own wallpaper business and made a success of it. It's true that Mr Osborne knew no hardship when he was young. But in my opinion the luckiest part of his childhood wasn't that his parents were minted, it was that their marriage was happy.
He grew up with brothers and grandparents and cousins and a home that was full of life and interest. That was the real privilege; it was a stronger foundation than money but it's a privilege shared by millions from all walks of life. Me included.
Should those of us who have shared that happy fate be vilified for it? Should the beautiful be loathed for their good fortune and the brilliant be hissed at for their fine minds? If the answer is no, why is being born wealthy any different?
His membership of The Bullingdon at Oxford was an error of judgment – even if he was pretty much a non-participant. (His biographer says he joined because it was hard to get in so he set himself the challenge.)
Still, it's a mark against him and, in these austere times, it makes for an uncomfortable juxtaposition: a former member of a privileged club now cutting the welfare of those in need. But if you listen carefully you won't hear that Ed Miliband plans to reinstate much. Our welfare bill has outgrown our pocket. No politician of any persuasion will tell you we can afford it.
So what can we expect from Mr Osborne in this budget?
I read that it will be a dull speech which will implement much of Lord Heseltine's plan for bringing economic development to the regions. It will hopefully bring a measure of hope to some and undoubtedly increased anxiety to many others.
Meantime we must be grateful that we aren't facing a crisis like Cyprus and that our youth unemployment is lower than Spain's and that we don't face the fascist extremism that has taken a grip in parts of Greece. We should remember these comparisons before we complain too loudly or hurl insults about our lost triple-A rating.
And we should be careful what we wish for. People accuse Mr Osborne of lacking political charisma. Well, I remember a politician with charisma and an evangelist's gift of persuasion. Look where that got us: an unnecessary and bloody war in Iraq.
Give me awkward George Osborne any day, the man everyone – except me – loves to hate .
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