There’s something to be said for not having a telly. Mine blew up a couple of months ago (well, not exactly ‘blew up’. More like started making some very odd noises and then gradually gave up the ghost in a kind of “Ahh, sod it, I just can’t be bothered any more” sort of a way), and ever since, I’ve been reading like they’re about to close all the libraries.
Over the last couple of days, I’ve had my nose buried in Things Can Only Get Better, John O’Farrell’s amusing 1998 memoir of being a Labour Party supporter in the 1980s and 1990s, which I first read about ten years ago. Although I find much of O’Farrell’s work very funny (he wrote for the legendary TV satire show Spitting Image at its height, and is responsible for the highly amusing NewsBiscuit website), I don’t always agree with him – for a start, his devotion to Labour reminds me why I don’t support a specific political party and won’t be going into politics any time soon (or at all!)
I guess we’d all like to think our dying words will be something as witty and pithy as those attributed to Oscar Wilde, who, on his Parisian death bed, is supposed to have commented:
Either that wallpaper goes, or I do
However, some people don’t seem to get this final moment of mordant wit quite right. A classic example of this is the final words allegedly spoken by Pancho Villa (the Mexican revolutionary); seemingly on the very subject of final words – or the lack of them in his case:
Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something.
But some people manage to get it gleefully, wonderfully right – which is why I had to smile this morning while reading the many obituaries published in tribute to the nurse, newspaper agony aunt and NHS campaigner Claire Rayner, who has died at the age of 79. The BBC report on her death says:
She told her relatives she wanted her last words to be: “Tell David Cameron that if he screws up my beloved NHS I’ll come back and bloody haunt him.”
And I should bloody think so too! Considering that this country is still paying the price for the last Tory government’s ‘reforms’ of the NHS (let alone what the last Labour government did to it…), further Conservative fiddling with the health service should strike fear into the hearts of patients and NHS staff alike – and the ghost of Claire Rayner should strike fear into Tory hearts everywhere!
I’d love to think she’ll be as good as her word – so, if reports start filtering out of Downing Street of poltergeist activity and sightings of the ghostly figure of a grey-haired, kind-hearted, slightly bossy nurse-type lady around David Cameron’s office, I think we can safely conclude not only that there is life after death but also (and more importantly!) that Claire Rayner has returned and she’s not very happy with this government….
They (whoever they are) say that a week is a long time in politics. And this last week or so has indeed been both long and eventful – as far as the general election campaign is concerned anyway. Thursday night saw the second of three televised leaders’ debates, this time on foreign policy issues. To this observer at least, the debate seemed to be more fiery and bad-tempered than that of the week before.
Voices were raised, impatient interruptions were made, very little of any actual substance was said, and there was much less agreeing with Nick this time – David Cameron publicly accused a sneery Gordon Brown of scaremongering and being an out-and-out liar, and they both laid into Nick Clegg in a seemingly pointless effort to flatten ‘Cleggmania’ before it can become truly politically dangerous.
It is interesting to see Brown and Cameron (as well as certain parts of the media) so obviously threatened by a man previously as politically anonymous as Nick Clegg. Both Labour and the Tories always knew that this was going to be a close-run election campaign, but the (perhaps not entirely unexpected) emergence of the Liberal Democrats has got them rattled now – the fact that the old two-party system is now being blown wide open can easily be read as further proof that the electorate is heartily sick and tired of the current, broken political system.
Well, that’s ninety minutes of my life I’ll never get back. Actually, it wasn’t as bad as I expected, and in some ways the perceived outcome was surprising (to me – a bit – anyway). This, the first televised debate of its kind in the UK, appears to have been some sort of attempt to engage the electorate in their own homes, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a large proportion of the ITV-watching population simply reached for the remote at 8.30pm. I didn’t – for my sins – and this is what I thought…
Gordon Brown fared better than I expected, although I thought he looked worried and old – and his attempts at joking his way out of a hole fell a little flat to my ears. He handled the question on the economy with more knowledge and grace than David Cameron (all those years in the Treasury waiting for Tony Blair to begone are paying off now, eh Gordon?), but his weird little attempts at deferring to Nick Clegg were noticeable and rather amusing – “I agree with Nick” being the catchphrase of the night from Gordy. I get the impression that Downing Street may well be preparing for a hung parliament and are thus rather clumsily grooming Clegg because they suspect that he may end up in an important position in any resulting coalition government.
So it’s May 6th then. Now there’s a surprise.
In exactly a month’s time, the polling booths will be open and the British people will be casting their vote for a new/old government, but, finally, today Her Madge gave her consent to Gordon Brown dissolving Parliament – which means the election campaign really, actually, finally, officially starts now (despite the fact that some candidates have been at it for months already).
And what an exciting morning it’s been for all us armchair election followers!
I’m not entirely sure what was most (least?) thrilling about this morning’s frankly mindless media coverage. Forced by Freeview to choose between Sky or the BBC, the telly ended up being muted when my brain started dripping out of my ears. I did catch Gordon Brown’s thoroughly tedious speech – although I was slightly distracted by the phrase ‘as dull as ditchwater’ bouncing round what little brain I had left by this point.
Other media lowlights included David Cameron’s unpleasantly smug speech to the rapt party faithful, complete with its mysterious (hmm) omission of the same two words (“gay” and “straight”) which were so heavily emphasised in the draft version revealed yesterday.
With the election now widely assumed to be on May 6th, the campaign for Britain’s hearts and minds has really begun in earnest, although said campaign doesn’t seem to be working very well – that’ll be on all sides, but particularly on that of the current New Labour government – even before Tony Blair weighed in with his dubious backing of Brown.
For example, the recent budget (which may not even ever be fully implemented at this rate) can only be described as a prime example of New Labour desperation and a rather pathetic attempt at saving the government’s electoral skin. In fact, this governmental desperation is already at such levels that this year’s Guardian April Fool on Labour’s alleged new hard-man-vote-Labour-or-else election strategy actually came very close to being convincing. Scary.
And it’s only going to get worse. I had already received my first batch of election propaganda back in late February, and now, in early April, even more of this rubbish has started coming through my letter box at a steady rate – and the quality of it has got so bad that it would actually be hilarious if this election wasn’t so damn important.
Just like last time, the Tory propaganda was the first to arrive, complete with exactly the same set of slightly sinister photos of that identikit Tory blonde candidate we saw before. However, instead of their previous desperate attempts at politely begging the reader to vote Conservative, this time their desperation just seeps through the paper:
You can tell it’s almost full-blown election season again.
For months, the newspapers have been full of the usual pre-election political squabbling over policy matters (and, this time round, there’s the added bonus of accusations of Prime Ministerial bullying) and the trashing of what little is left of any given opposing Honourable Person’s reputation, all undertaken in the desperate hope of just edging past one’s opponents in the polls.
Unsurprisingly, the inevitable satire campaign has been up and running for quite a while too, giving those of us of a more politically cynical persuasion some well-deserved amusement, particularly at the expense of the Tories and the incompetence of their election propaganda goons.
But then, yesterday, when the postman arrived, I finally knew that the campaign was officially beginning in earnest: the first set of election-related political literature dropped onto my doormat with the morning post.
Here we go again, I thought, and immediately reached for my laptop…
For a change, it is the Tories who have been quickest off the mark, producing a shiny, brightly-coloured, determinedly upbeat fold-out leaflet and an attempt at a fiercely self-important local newsletter; both featuring multiple images of an equally shiny, brightly-coloured and determinedly upbeat-looking thirtysomething identikit Tory blonde who insists she is “working hard” and “fighting” for “a change for the better” in the local area. Or something.
Now we’re a month into it, I suspect that it’s still too much to hope (perhaps) that 2010 will be a better year politically than the last. I suspect things will pick up where they left off at the end of last year and we’ll get another twelve months of bitching and moaning – but very little action on behalf of our elected ‘representatives’ in Westminster. Quelle surprise.
I can’t help being so cynical. I used to be a full-blown idealist (and I still hold firm to an arguably idealistic belief in the necessity of peace, equality and fairness, despite everything), but the more I learned about and the more I understood the way the political system in this country works, the less convinced I was by its weasel words (ie, not at all), and the less I believed in the possibility of it being an agent for and a necessary force in creating positive change.
Cynicism comes naturally after that.
2009 did little to disabuse me of this belief. All in all, it was a pretty sorry year, politically speaking – although no matter how much you despise the government of the day (and no matter how enjoyable the schadenfreude), it is never comfortable viewing to watch them dig themselves deeper and deeper into a pit of infamy; that same pit of infamy which Tony Blair played such a prominent role in originally (re) opening up back in 1997.
I’m wondering if it is really true. I’m wondering if this really is victory – because no-one seems quite sure either way yet.
After all the campaigning and letter-writing and protesting, and after the government’s controversial decision on the matter, the ‘announcement’ that BAA will not be submitting plans for the third runway at Heathrow before the 2010 general election slipped out with barely a whimper last week in an article in The Sunday Times.
As one of the thousands of people who live under the Heathrow flightpath and who have been involved in the various local campaigns against the third runway, I should be dancing in the streets and cracking open the cooking champagne as a result of this apparently new decision, but, if anything, it’s left me feeling even more confused than before.
The final decision on the third runway was always going to be a complex and controversial one. Any financial and economic benefits of its development had to be weighed against the impact of a new runway on the lives of the communities in the immediate vicinity and under the wider flightpath of the airport. Or at least that was the theory, anyway.
Of course, when major projects like this are in the planning stages, the agencies involved (whether of big business, government, or – in this case – both) will always make lots of colourful and seemingly sincere noise about how they intend to listen to and take on board the views of ordinary people, particularly those who live locally to the development, and about how this type of consultation is an essential aspect of their decision-making process.