Friday, 30 April 2010

Ignorance is Bliss

'No, no, you're right. Your sixty years' experience as
a housewife in a small Lancashire town does qualify
you to make judgements on immigration policy.'

In a scene reminiscent of BBC’s The Thick of it, Gordon Brown slags off a ‘normal’ citizen on the campaign trail after retreating to the relative safety of his Jag. It makes you think, doesn’t it? How does Cameron summarise a grim afternoon kissing ASBO babies in Scunthorpe? Or Clegg after canvassing in a Tory stronghold of Thatcherist perms? We all know what Nick Griffin says when the camera is switched off, precisely because no journalist worth their salt would ever press the off button when he and his cronies are within earshot, be that at a party conference or a post campaign pint down the George and Dragon in Dagenham.

Of course politicians don’t like talking to real people with issues; they almost always fail to fit in neat legislative boxes, instead rather rudely choosing to have jobs, lives and children. Ungrateful sods. It must, however, be incredibly frustrating for the politicians themselves, as seemingly almost every man, woman and child on the streets of Britain seems completely ignorant to the bigger picture. Understandably, people in general care most about the issues that affect their everyday lives, and for the most part couldn’t care a hoot for wider monetary policy or voting reform. It is becoming increasingly clear from the ubiquitous broadcasting coverage this election has received that the majority of people are spectacularly uniformed (or perhaps just plain ignorant) to politics as a whole. In the same way that politicians are forced to generalise demographics into digestible statistics, the public on the whole seem equally as acquiescent in subscribing to the few general ‘truths’ about politics and politicians. You know what I’m talking about; take any of the endless and entirely fatuous segments on TV news as an example:

Nick Robinson on one of his interminable jaunts around the country inevitably stops off in some god-forsaken town to talk to the ‘voters’. There, he receives the same old narrow minded answers he gets from every other god-forsaken town he’s had the misfortune to visit after disembarking the BBC election wagon. Firstly, there’s the old man with no teeth and a flat cap who denies he has any interest in the political sphere, claiming that ‘they’re all the same aren’t they? Robbing bastards.’ Next, a woman with hoop earrings on a market stall selling pink velour sweat pants reveals that she’s voting BNP, due to her suffering business being a direct result of the Asian community’s indifference to buying her pink velour sweat pants. Next up is the lady with a respectable job (who took some finding) pledging her allegiance to Nick Clegg on the back of the last TV debate because ‘he seemed like a nice guy’. By this time, it’s clear that the BBC’s esteemed political editor is of exactly the same mindset as Gordon Brown after his run in with the ‘bigoted woman’; a thinly veiled expression of understanding and journalistic intrigue covering his true contempt for the utterly stupid British public.

It’s partly the fault of TV networks for over saturating the airwaves with election hype. Sky News managed to eek out an entire night of coverage devoted to the second debate, even recruiting body language experts to analyse hand gestures, not to mention the broadcast media’s obsession with ties. The most laughable of these innumerable analyses is ‘the worm’. All the channels have incorporated this piece of totally facile technology into their election coverage. If the worm has escaped your notice, it’s basically a real-time graph charting the reaction of selected members of the public to each televised debate Like a wounded snake, it drags its slow length along as the programme unfolds, with the wiggly red, blue and yellow lines moving up or down according to the audience’s opinion of how each leader is faring. It ranges (unofficially) from ‘nice geezer’ to ‘what a wanker’. It has proved itself routinely pointless however, as the lines tend to worm upwards whenever one of them speaks of ‘fairness’ or ‘tax cuts’, and take a dive should they mutter something about ‘austerity’ or ‘tax rises’, for obvious reasons.

On the issue of ignorance amongst the electorate, it’s clear from the TV debates that all three of the party leaders consider the majority of the audiences at home to be a bit dim at best. Having sat through all three, it became obvious that the same stock phrases were being rolled out again and again: ‘David wants to put the economy at risk’ from Brown, ‘stop the jobs tax’ from Cameron and courtesy of Nick Clegg, the worst of the three by far for pleb-friendly political strap lines, ‘put money back in your pocket’, ‘these two old parties’ and the perennial favourite ‘greedy bankers’. These sound bites are designed simply to dupe your average voter into thinking they have the magic remedy to our drunken economy, as it lies dribbling in a gutter somewhere trying to find its wallet for a taxi home. I’m not saying that Clegg, Cameron or Brown should plunge headlong into the minutiae of political theory, but give us some credit; if I wanted a catchphrase, I’d watch Fawlty Towers.

It was summed up nicely during an interview after the second debate with an audience member. ‘I’ve always voted Conservative’ she said, ‘but last week I was really impressed with Clegg, and so I thought I might vote for him’. She followed this heavyweight political judgement with the revelation that she had met Mr Cameron after the show, and that he seemed really nice and talked with her about the nice weather we’ve been having. That, she revealed, was sufficient to swing her vote back the other way. When asked what areas of Conservative policy she agreed with, a moment’s umming and ahing gave way to ‘all of it really’. I have a suspicion that she might be a little confused come election day when she can’t see David Cameron’s name on her ballot paper anywhere. Bless.

Luckily for me, I’m currently surrounded by students at university (and I never thought I’d say that). It was refreshing during the first debate to see contemplative undergraduates discussing the finer points of monetary policy over snakebite. I am doubtful however, that the same conversations will be replicated in pubs and offices up and down the country, and more’s the pity. In my experience, Eastenders receives a much higher billing in the gossip stakes, and should women’s soap opera chat around the office water cooler be replaced with deep ideological discussion, the TV debates would become unnecessary. It’s the same with men and football. I remember what my Mum said to me when I was collecting football stickers as a child for the Italia ’90 world cup; ‘if you spent half as much time memorising your times tables as you do learning the names of the entire United Arab Emirates squad, you’d be a genius.’ Incidentally, I can still name half of them, but I couldn’t tell you what 8 x 12 is.

A joke to finish, I think:

Q: what do you call a coalition government of porn stars?
A: A well-hung parliament.

You can have that one.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Election Exclusive - Party Leaders Mass-Debate

Tension began to mount as the three remaining
contestants entered the big money round

Now I’m not usually one for up-to-the-minute reactionary blogging. I prefer to ruminate on a subject for a while until the volcanic dust has settled, and hopefully put some comments across that aren't simply a regurgitation of everything else doing the rounds. At least that’s the intention. Tonight, however, I feel I must say a little something concerning what will undoubtedly be the most blogged political phenomenon this country has ever seen. I’m already too late however, as the News at Ten are already giving me poll results at, what is it, 10.15..

I won’t delve too deeply into nitty-gritty of policy, but a few thoughts became clear as tonight’s election debate gathered steam. Firstly, my goodness! I understand that these debates were only announced relatively recently, but you’d think it was long enough for ITV to construct a set befitting the unprecedented occasion. It looked a little like the studio from the 1986 run of Blockbusters, and the wishy-washy backdrop screen behind the leaders’ heads was reminiscent of a bible belt Evangelical church. The construction work on their faces wasn’t much better. Cameron looked like he was appearing at a drag club. I’m just glad I wasn’t watching on HD.

I’m a little disappointed that the format deviated from the tried and tested Question Time system of the clapo-meter; half the fun is the applause, or more specifically the few that clap fervently at a seemingly well made point only to undergo an ideological 180 once they realise that no one else thought so. Interestingly, the questioners were even given a brief biog, like Sue from Oldham with a pub. Who’d have thought voters had lives and jobs!

As ITV is so promptly informing me, Clegg came out on top. He was always going to, right? Nothing to lose. To be fair to him and the Lib Dems, he is by far the youngest and most sober leader they have had for a while. Unfortunately, this sort of programme attracts the glory viewer; you know the one, claims he loves Rugby but only ever watches the Six Nations, during which he’s an expert. I doubt he’ll be tuning in to BBC Parliament any time soon. Lib Dem policies do make a lot of sense, but they require such an upheaval of the system that it’s unfeasible at best. Clegg, for me, was just a tad too obsequious towards the audience, particularly those who posed the questions. It all became a bit much during his closing speech however, when he name-dropped every one of the questioners and the issues they raised. He’s like the one in a group job interview who writes everyone’s name down as they introduce themselves and repeats them smugly in conversation to their potential boss, whilst everyone else doesn’t really give a shit.

Cameron looked uncharacteristically shifty to start with; this stuff is normally his bread and butter. I’m pretty sure that was due to the extra leg he and Brown had acquired in Clegg, which unsettled his practised role of slagging off the Prime Minister solo during PMQs.

Brown was Brown, simple as that. Heavy on fact, light on personality. But he played to it the best he could, and at least he hasn’t made the egregious mistake of trying to develop a personality all of a sudden. He did attempt one joke through gritted teeth, but that was simply a vehicle for an Ashcroft jibe, and was squeezed in between his ingratiating attempts at aligning himself with Clegg.

So, one down, two to go. One debate doesn’t make an election as they say (they do), and neither will three. Polls for this, that and the other on the back of ninety minutes of television are not persuasive indicators of a general election result, and with the current voting system, will probably do little to swing favour in the majority of constituencies that remain red or blue. It’s not like we have a dearth of election-based broadcasting right now either. The radio 4 schedule is almost entirely devoted to it at present, so much so that election hype has even permeated the sacred space that is Woman’s Hour. Having said that, I’ve probably undermined myself spectacularly by writing a reactionary blog piece on election politics. It’s worth getting it in now, however. After May 6th, we’ll never want to talk about it again..

On a lighter note following tonight’s frolics, I was disturbed to hear that the Royal Navy have lowered its recruitment age so drastically, after Cameron claimed to have met a 40 year old man who had served in the service for 30 years. The inadvertent chortle of the night however, came from the apparently budding doctor Clegg whose dodgy phraseology produced this gem;

‘I was at a Paediatric hospital last week, treating babies’.

His talents do not stop with public speaking, it seems.