Saturday, 7 February 2015


Coming up to an election, it’s remarkable how very nice many of the candidates appear to be. Approachable, generous, principled, passionate, caring and, above all, sincere. Being easy on the eye certainly helps, although once enthroned - either in politics or religion – people with power are automatically imbued with the charisma to match. An airbrush of fame works wonders for the complexion!

And because ordinary mortals desperately want leaders they can trust and admire, years may elapse before those feet of clay poke out from under the mantle.

Take Nero, for instance.

Believe it or not, before starting to barbecue Christians, Nero seemed a decent young cove, a promising ruler who would unite the people and help Rome to flourish. His first five years as emperor were marked by modesty, generosity, compassion, and help for the poor, enhanced by his strong sense of justice. In The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, historian C Suetonius Tranquillus described Nero as a man of good intentions who abolished or reduced taxes, gave the Praetorian guard a monthly allowance of free grain (on top of their wages, no doubt!) and subsidised senators of little means with an annual salary.

“He let slip no opportunity for acts of generosity and mercy, or even for displaying his affability

Nero was affable, greeting men of all walks of life, even remembering their names! So approachable; he allowed common people to watch him exercising in the Campus and to listen to his poetry recitals both in private or at the theatre. If he lived today, he'd probably be a boozer schmoozer; blokily propping up a bar, downing pints with the lads and slapping a few backs! 

He was a generous patron of the arts and provided plenty of distractions with drama, spectacle, sports, chariot races and gladiatorial combat, much to the delight of the bloodthirsty crowds. The populace also benefited from his generous hand-outs in times of need - bread and circuses kept them happy.

And, believe it or not, for a God-Emperor Nero was surprisingly modest. When the senate proposed thanks to him, he replied, "When I shall have deserved them." Merciful too: ‘When asked according to custom to sign the warrant for the execution of a man who had been condemned to death, he said: "How I wish I had never learned to write!"

Of his outrageous treatment towards Christians later in his reign, no more needs to be said. Yet despite his descent into paranoia and persecution, he remained popular with the poor until his suicide at the age of 31.



Gilded youth is a fair description of King David’s astonishingly handsome son who would stand at the gates of the city, hugging and empathising with every citizen nursing a grievance. He definitely had the 'Princess Diana' factor! 
A consummate politician, Absalom feigned deep concern for the people while inferring that his father was disinterested in them. In this way, he quickly won hearts and a formidable following which led to civil war.

Pride, ambition, murderous hatred and treachery were Absolom's hallmarks……and his undoing!

Herod the Great

Early in his rule, Herod rid Judea of robbers and set up remarkable building projects, including the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, along with theatres, amphitheatres and hippodromes. In common with Nero, he was an enthusiastic patron of the arts and instituted Greek and Roman games at the amphitheatre in Caesarea.

He must have had great charm and awesome diplomatic skills; having started as a supporter of Julius Caesar, he managed to align himself with the emperor’s assassin Cassius, yet later won over Caesar’s avowed avenger, Mark Antony. Switching allegiance yet again, he sided with and was forgiven by Antony’s enemy, Octavius (Augustus) Caesar and became his friend, likely with the aid of generous bribes!

He referred to the Jews as “my countrymen”, despite being a proselyte with no interest in the religion – in fact; he was hated by Jewish religious leaders. He did, however, manage to appease ordinary people by lowering their taxes, providing relief in times of famine, and persuading Augustus to grant privileges to Jews throughout the Roman Empire.

All in all, a solid, all-round politician. Had he not murdered his beautiful wife Mariamne, 3 of his sons, his brother-in-law, grandfather, several former friends and all the under-2-year-old boys in Bethlehem, he could have gone down in history as a rather ‘nice’ chap!

Henry VIII

Another ‘paragon’ who fell short of his early promise. Tall, handsome, athletic, artistically gifted, pious and charismatic, Henry could have had the world at his feet – well, England anyway. But his persecution of Catholics and abysmal marriage record went against him in the end. And, like so many privileged people who are continually fawned over and made to feel omnipotent, power went to his head - losing many people theirs in the process!


Hailed as a saviour, it seemed Adolf could turn Germany’s fortunes round, and be a real force for change. Sadly, it was another kind of ‘force’ he had in mind entirely!


With modern media and spin doctoring, politics in the 21st century is ever more reliant on outward show - the charisma, charm and graciousness of viable candidates. Let’s hope the next world leaders will truly be as ‘nice’ as they appear!

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