OPINION: The Heathcliff image isn't working, Gordon

Whether or not to be a glossy cover boy is a difficult call if you're a political leader. So many questions to ask: 'Will I look like an idiot?' 'Can someone make me look like De Niro in Raging Bull?' 'Will I look too "Grrr", or too gay, or not gay enough?'

Recently the quite pretty Barack Obama did it in America's GQ magazine, which had not had a politician on its cover for 15 years. Beneath the portrait it shouted in capitals: 'Barack Obama rules - on the road with the great contender.'

Tony Blair 'did' Men's Vogue recently. He's relaxed; he looks about 40; hands in pockets he stares at ease into the lens, just tanned enough.

The caption is 'Tony Blair - the man who made Britannia cool takes on the world's toughest job'. Gordon Brown, probably not a subscriber to be fair, would have shredded it with his teeth.

Last year, David Cameron took a chance appearing on the cover of GQ - the spangly 'entertainment issue' - in a slick gold tie. Underneath a decidedly un-Tory pose, in a large show-time font, was the legend 'Mr Ambition'. It worked.

The flattering lure of a forgiving photographer such as Annie Leibowitz or Mario Testino must be a pull. So Gordon Brown's team would have been thrilled when he was offered the huge international platform of the current Time magazine cover and an interview.

The portrait on the front features Brown looking blank. Beside it: 'Gordon Brown has big ideas. So why don't they play better at home?' It is hardly glowing.

Time was granted magnificent access, two hours with the Prime Minister in his home in Fife.

Interviewer Catherine Meyer writes: 'Brown will have to master the one skill he has never perfected, the ability to communicate and persuade.' No, not good enough Gordon - you have been a politician for 25 years; if you can't communicate as Prime Minister on your own turf, there is a huge problem.

The picture inside is quite simply odd. He stands off-centre, shiftily in front of a hedgerow taller than him, with a dark sky looming above suggesting troubles ahead. He looks like he's lurking in an asylum.

Last year he was sold to us as the brooding type, an old-school romantic hero. But where has Heathcliff gone? For a short period, if you plunged the depths of your imagination for the surly, petulant male, you could just about buy it. A Labour aide gushed he was like 'a modern-day Mr Darcy'.

Brown is simply not doing it. Now all I can muster is a grumpy man, wandering around Balwearie golf club mumbling about 10p tax rebels.

Tara Hamilton-Miller is a political adviser and was formerly a press officer at Conservative Campaign HQ.

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