KEITH NEWBERY Never mind the policies – judge by appearances

A recent survey confirmed what many of us have long believed – voters are often influenced more by personalities than policies.

If politicians don’t look trustworthy no amount of inspired thinking will win over the electorate.

This also means first impressions are especially important to politicians, few of whom actually manage to create a good one.

Picture some of our best-known MPs, think of the first appropriate adjective which springs to mind and you will see what I mean.

Cameron (haughty), Osborne (prissy), Balls (pugnacious), Miliband E (gormless), Harman (sanctimonious) and Clegg (vacuous) are typical examples.

Only Hilary Benn – from whom honesty and earnestness seem to ooze from every pore – would emerge from a Westminster identity parade with his reputation enhanced.

But one government front-bencher, more than any other, possesses the sort of face Hogarth would have chosen to illustrate a character whose motives and methods are guaranteed to arouse deep suspicion.

I am referring, of course, to Chris Huhne a man for whom the description ‘shifty’ could have been invented.

Sometimes, however, people can be too clever for their own good and the secretary of state for energy and climate change may have just slipped into this category.

When Michael Gove’s letter to Nick Clegg – suggesting the Queen should receive the gift of a new Royal Yacht to celebrate her diamond jubilee – was leaked to the Guardian, it was widely believed Huhne was responsible.

In what was an obvious flanking movement (even by Lib Dem standards) the intention was to provide Nick Clegg with an opportunity to publicly berate his coalition partners for their unacceptable extravagance at a time of great austerity.

The Lib Dem leader duly clambered aboard his high horse, confidently expecting to orchestrate the howls of public outrage.

But the act of treachery fell flat.

Cameron and Gove immediately made it clear no public money would be spent on a craft expected to cost £80m, and that it would instead be funded by wealthy companies and individuals.

Not only that, the yacht would cover its own costs by staging trade exhibitions and providing training for sea cadets.

There’s a possibility, of course, that Gove deliberately planted the original letter, confident the Lib Dems would leak it and look silly.

Now that would be really shifty.

** Why Ali will always be the greatest

The finest sportsman the world has ever seen has celebrated his 70th birthday.

It’s almost an insult to refer to Muhammad Ali as a mere boxer because his supreme athleticism and unique personality have always transcended the physical and psychological constraints of that sport.

But his greatest quality has always been his courage – both inside the ring and out.

When creeping infirmity slowed his body and mind, nobody would have blamed him for taking the comfortable option and fading from public view, leaving behind fond memories of an exceptional human being.

But by accepting his fate and making a public triumph of a personal tragedy, Muhammad Ali has shown once again why he will always be known as ‘The Greatest’.