George Osborne again (or A eulogy for John McDonnell)

Osborne 2

I suppose I should’ve drawn Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell after his toe-curling response to Big George’s spending review last week. But, given that it’s likely to hasten his already fairly imminent departure from frontline politics, I’m not sure it’s worth bothering to learn what his face looks like.

For those who didn’t catch it, McDonnell crowned a toweringly incoherent riposte by quoting from venerable despot and genocidal tunic-enthusiast Chairman Mao Tse Tung’s Little Red Book – an item so incongruous in the House of Commons he could’ve whipped out a massive red dildo and raised fewer eyebrows.

I mean seriously, talk about confirming unhelpful stereotypes. Imagine John Major ironing his Y-fronts on the despatch box or David Cameron going full Bullingdon and announcing, between lusty swigs of Bollinger, the privatisation of the NHS to fund a vast annual subsidy for the British pig farming industry. Perhaps Boris riffling through his Little Black Book and fondly recounting conquests past (or possibly present). That’s the level.

And the thing is it could – if handled with a soupcon more acuity – have been a moment of cautious triumph for McDonnell.

Osborne had just announced two whopping great U-turns on tax credits and police funding. U-turns for which J McD should’ve bounced straight up to claim the credit by having made the anti-austerity case with such formidable verve and eloquence (ha) while at the same time amplifying the vox populi in the palaces of the mighty, doing a passable impression of a united, coherent opposition party and even nursing a few green shoots of economic credibility into the bargain. Utter bollocks of course but who cares? ‘Engine of the North,’ anyone? Yeah, exactly.

Instead, what Johnny McDonny did was to stagger up to the mic like someone’s pissed grandad crashing the after-dinner speeches at a wedding and begin rummaging through the dusty, clutter-strewn attic of his mind. Minute by minute, one by one, Labour faces froze into veneers of clenched, expressionless fury. And, as he brandished his Little Red Career Coffin, political sketchwriters all over Wapping slid their 2012 ‘Omnishamble budget’ write-ups back onto the shelf and, en masse, settled down to craft Mao puns (‘Mao money, Mao problems’ is one I was disappointed not to see).

By the time he concluded with a limp attack on Boris Johnson (who had buggered off about half an hour earlier), McDonnell had succeeded – masterfully and totally – in wiping the Chancellor’s fiscal flip-flopping from a nation’s collective memory.

“I got the point across though didn’t I?” bleated the old goat on the Channel 4 News that evening.

“What point would that be then?” more or less replied a broadly grinning and almost recumbent Krishnan Guru-Murthy.

“The one about selling off our national assets.”

*Baffled ‘what fucking planet are you from?’ silence*

“We wouldn’t be having this conversation now if I hadn’t raised the issue in what was perhaps a slightly jocular manner” he insisted with chuckling derangement.

No, course not. You’re only the Shadow Chancellor of the bleedin’ Exchequer in the wake of the most important economic statement of this parliament. How could you possibly have wrangled yourself a millisecond of air time without transporting us to the People’s Republic of Top Bantz?

I know ol’ Ronald McDonnell had previously promised not to make political capital out of any climb down the government might perform on tax credits. But he could’ve at least let the rancid stench of surrender hang in the air for a few seconds and people’s eyes water a little before obligingly charging in to stink up the place himself.

I mean it’s one thing staying dutifully po-faced when a rival cuts a violent fart in unreceptive circumstances but quite another to take the bullet yourself by immediately wrenching down your own pantaloons and curling off a vast, varnish-melting deuce on the coffee table of the commentariat.

Anyway whatevs. Here’s Gorgeous George who, courtesy of a commendable effort to lead a national tightening of belts literally and by example, now looks like he’s inhabiting someone else’s skin.

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Nigel Farage

Nigel Farage 2

Genuinely saddened to see how ruthlessly the one-track hysteria of the Great British Electorate has done for the Lib Dems.

Still, at least we won’t to put up with Nigel ‘the Marlboro toad’ Farage belching into microphones, taking his pit stains to parliament and smearing his slimy residue all over the green benches. So that’s something.

Ed Balls – on the campaign trail

Ed Balls

REPORTER: I’m delighted to say we’ve got the Shadow Chancellor in the studio. Mr Balls, good morning and thanks for joining us.

ED BALLS: Pleasure to be here, Mr….Journalist.

R: It’s David actually, that’s just my pass.

EB: No it’s not. Mr Journalist. Change it. Mr Journalist. Jonathan Oliver…Urnalist.

R: Err, yes. You’ll have caught George Osborne’s performance on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday–

EB: Caught it? Yes, I expect the whole nation will have ‘caught it’ like a rampantly infectious vomiting bug. 18 times the Chancellor was asked how he’d fund his party’s £8bn NHS proposals and 18 times the British public saw him flail and flounder in a morass of his own putrefying promises.

R: I’m sorry?

EB: He didn’t answer the question.

R: Uh huh. So what’s your proposal?

EB: To save the NHS. Simple.

R: Would you care to expand on that at all?

EB: Well I’m not about to mimic the truffle-fed arrogance and towering irresponsibility of George Osborne by sitting here and making unfunded promises. Let’s just say I’m going to save the NHS and then say it a few more times and leave it there, right?

R: Well…I mean, if you don’t mind, let’s see if we can’t just unpack that a tiny bit. The um…the funding, for instance: where’s that coming from?

EB: Oh nonononononono, your clever questions aren’t going to work on me, Journalist. You know, I know and the honest, simple, honest, hardworking and honest viewers of this programme know that I have absolutely no idea where the £5bn shortfall in our NHS investment is going to come from. So for me to sit here and pretend otherwise by attempting to answer your question would be a monumental dereliction of my duty as a public servant. Look. Look. Look. Ok? Look. I’m going to save the NHS. That’s just a fact. I’ll do what it takes. But surely you see how recklessly irresponsible it would be for me to outline how I’m going to do that when I haven’t given it even the most fleeting moment’s cursory thought? Frankly I find the very question offensive.

R: I see. So when Ed Miliband said he wanted to be the first Prime Minister to underpromise and overdeliver, he actually meant…

EB: Precisely. You know what a deep thinker Ed is. Well about a month ago, after a solid week of particularly thoughtful thinking, he unveiled what we all quickly realised would become our most significant policy breakthrough since Gordon Brown announced an end to boom and bust. Basically, Ed’s come up with a way to abolish broken promises. How? Simple. Stop promising things. If hopes don’t rise, they can’t fall – no expectation, no deflation. In fact, I lobbied for that to be our campaign slogan but Harman wouldn’t have it on the side of her frigging bus. Anyway, Ed has taken a body politic which for years has been haemorrhaging goodwill and he’s performed what Axelrod’s calling a ‘trustfusion’ on it. This is the dawning of a new age, Journalist.  An age of clean consciences, blank manifesto pages and vacant expressions.

R: I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. So, turning to immigration then, and your targetless pledge to bring the number of migrants under control – same deal there?

EB: There you go again, you see, peddling tired, outmoded notions like ‘pledge,’ ‘target,’ ‘accountability’ and so on. The Tories set themselves a net migration target and missed it so spectacularly I was able to gloat about it for a full week before anyone even bothered asking me what I’d have done differently. We prefer not to insult people’s intelligence by confusing them with statistics and policies. Instead, we’ve got a bold and refreshing offer for Britain – to simply do as well as we can as quickly as we can under the circumstances prevailing at the time. And who could say fairer than that? I mean anyone can just set a target can’t they? I could set myself a target right now not to elbow a single journalist in the face at a charity football match during the next parliament. I think we can all agree that’s pretty pie in the sky stuff right? But I just pledged it. So…QED.

R: Uh, well after a fashion. But of course, it’s then for the public to weigh up the plausibility of said target based on the record and character of the person in quest–

EB: –Exactly, waste of time.

R: So…on housebuilding, no commitment there either then?

EB: Now just stop it, Journalist. You know as well as I do that commitments are the gallows of credibility. Predictions prelimit progress. In this fast-paced, ever-changing world, it’d be pretty idiotic of us to tether the things we do to anything as arbitrary as the things we say. I mean how can we be expected to leap on the next political bandwagon if we’re burdened with the weight of past pronouncements?

R: Ahem, non-doms.

EB: What’s that?

R: Oh nothing, I just sneezed.

EB: Oh…bless you, Journalist. Bless you.

The real problem with Ed (it’s not his stupid face)

Ed Miliband 2 shading

Whenever I see Ed Miliband trying to pretend he’s a human, I’m reminded of a particular scene in Mark Tavener’s criminally underrated sitcom Absolute Power in which the oily sultan of spin Charles Prentiss (not so much played by as written for Stephen Fry) is sizing up dowdy Tory shadow minister Joanne Standing (basically a pilot version of The Thick of It‘s Nicola Murray).

‘Who are you, Joanne?’ demands Prentiss. ‘Don’t answer that, I’m making a rhetorical point. You’re Neil Kinnock.’

‘Wrong party, wrong sex,’ she fires back.

‘Both irrelevant.

‘If the British public were forced at gun-point to appoint a new Prime Minister and they could only choose between Jeffrey Archer and Neil Kinnock, who would they pick? A convicted felon and mythomaniac or a sincere and dedicated socialist?

‘They’d choose Archer every time. And why? Because Kinnock is Kinnock. There’s something about that poor bastard that just makes you want to run screaming from the room. And you’re the same. No offence.’

Ed’s the same too. Except instead of running from the room, I just find myself wanting to bully him. I’m not proud of this but I cannot tell a lie. Well obviously that was one but I wont tell another lie until at least the end of this sentence. When I see his face, I just want to stuff it down the nearest toilet. It looks like it belongs there.

This is a problem for any aspiring statesman. I mean imagine if he gets elected. Unlikely, I know, but indulge me. How are we supposed to promote our national interests on the world stage when all anyone around the negotiating table can think about is bog-washing our Prime Minister?

I jest of course. Ed probably hasn’t had to comb the Cillit Bang out of his hair since prep school. Though at the moment it does look as though he’s imminently to renew old acquaintances with a certain Mr Armitage Shanks as his party hurtles toward the electoral toilet.

And this isn’t just because he’s ‘weird.’ Though he does seem pretty weird.

It’s because in respect of the credentials on which he repeatedly invites us to judge him – ideas, policies, intellectual rigour – his CV is as blank as Ed Balls’s Fitness First loyalty card.

The other week we learnt that Labour’s policy review process (the place where all Ed’s lofty principles go to become policies) was being ditched in favour of ‘instrumentalised, cynical nuggets of policy to chime with our focus groups and our press strategies and our desire for a top line in terms of the 24-hour media cycle’.

Fair enough,’ you might say, ‘that’s politics in the age of mass media innit’ but this is Ed Miliband we’re talking about here. The guy for whom the words ‘deep analysis’ seem to possess almost erotic resonance.

And by the way these weren’t the words of some disgruntled back-bencher. These came directly from the mouth of Jon Cruddas – the man in charge of Labour’s so-called policy review. Not the ‘erotic resonance’ ones. The other ones.

I don’t doubt that Ed is a man of principle. I don’t think anyone does. But the thing about principles is they need to be conveyed in a solution of policy. And beyond getting up occasionally to bleat about media monopolies, energy cartels and how his family grocery bill is over seventy shillings a week, Ed doesn’t really have any of those.

A principled politician without any ideas about how to implement them is a bit like that urban myth about the daddy long legs. You know, the one about it having the most lethal venom known to man but not having fangs long enough to bite. I’m going to sidestep the temptation to draw a physical parallel between Ed and a daddy long legs (a graceless tumbleweed of flaccid limbs flailing ineffectually around the skirting-board of electoral plausibility) because, despite my best efforts, I seem to have stumbled into the trap of making a serious point.

And that point is that far from people being ‘desperate for [Ed] to lose the next election,’ (as he told the Huffington Post recently with what I’m assuming he hoped would be interpreted as stoic self-deprecation) the many millions who believe in and depend on the principles Ed claims to stand for – a more equitable arrangement of the economy, a living wage, career paths for the young, fewer bulwarks of entrenched privilege – genuinely mourn his failings. For these people, it’s actually a profound inconvenience that Ed doesn’t know how to smile like a human or go jogging without looking like a llama in an industrial-sized tumble dryer and has all the charisma of Phil Neville giving a 12 part lecture series on erectile dysfunction.

But the truth (and by ‘truth’ I mean a half-baked theory which just occurred to me) is Ed actually likes keeping things nice and superficial. Column kilometers waxing abusive about his wonky nose, his flapping mouth full of accordion-key teeth and his litany of toe-curling pratfalls are meat and drink to him.

Why? Because it’s the ultimate deflector shield.

For Ed to have a mob of critics braying about how he’s incapable of eating bacon sandwich in a prime ministerial fashion lets him totally off the hook. Any curve balls can be batted away with self-righteous comments like ‘ideas matter in politics more than bacon sandwiches.’ In other words, he can tar all the negative press he gets with the broad brush of frivolity and completely ignore the very real charge that, far from being emboldened and distilled, these crucial arguments – cost of living and all that noise – have actually become tainted by association with him.

These are important principles which define the sort of society we want to see and powerful weapons in the fight to establish it. However, the sad fact is that choosing Ed Miliband to champion them is like mounting a heat-seeking missile on a spavined pack-horse.

And all the while Ed continues to make his election campaign the righteous crusade of the bullied schoolboy against ‘people who are far better at photo ops’ than him, it’s the people who actually know how much their weekly grocery bill comes to who will continue to suffer.

Having said all that, look at his silly face.

Boris’ “media goat f**k” – Tory Party Conference

So last week I pitched up in Birmingham for my first Conservative party conference.

Before we get into the nitty gritty though, I have to deal a shout-out to two parties without whom the experience just wouldn’t have been the same.

Big-up first of all to a colleague of mine who shall, so as to spare him any embarrassment on top of that which he garners daily by virtue of his stupid face and ridiculous pronouncements, remain nameless. Let’s just call him Simpleton Denselow. Wait, that’s probably too specific. Toby Simpleton (@tobysnizzle). Toby Simpleton, normally in charge of stationery management, was given a shot at booking the conference accommodation. At the Lib Dem conference, he showed himself to have nothing short of a spectacular talent for finding the grottiest hostelries on the face of the planet. In Birmingham, suffice it to say that he distinguished himself once again. Hats off to you, Tobes.

Upon arrival, I was informed that my room was not yet ready (clearly they were still spit-shining the shower fixtures and scraping the bed sheets) so I diligently scuttled off to catch the end of an early fringe meeting.

Or so I thought. Shout out number two, you see, goes to the benevolent, all-seeing, all-knowing Google Maps which assured me by way of a merry pin on its grey landscape, that my meeting was but a hop, a skip and a jump away. After completing the hop and the skip, I was preparing to jump when I found myself surrounded by the derelict remnants of what looked like it was once an industrial estate. My spidey senses were tingling. “Strange place for the government to hold a party conference,” I sagely thought to myself. “Particularly one seeking to rally under the banner ‘Britain can deliver.’ How deliciously ironic! HAHAHAHAHA!”

Undaunted (and utterly unburdened by common sense), I pressed on through dogshit-strewn pathways along stagnant canals of green-skinned water until, presently, I passed a disreputable looking tattoo parlour outside which was sitting an unshaven, string-vested local hitting a log with a hammer. There were no nails involved: he was just hitting a log with a hammer. My suspicions, so subtly aroused by the incongruity of my surroundings, were given another firm dig in the ribs by this rather unedifying spectacle. I’ll be honest with you: my confidence in Google Maps was at an ebb.

Any hopes I had of seeing George Osborne prance from behind yonder pile of decaying tyres to extol the resourcefulness of the British small to medium sized enterprise community so nobly embodied by this log-hating hammer-jockey were fast fading. Instead, I suddenly became acutely conscious of Liam Neeson’s cautionary mantra is Batman Begins: “mind your surroundings”. In my current surroundings – a Lowry illustration of a Smiths dirge on Thatcher’s legacy to the industrial North – I stuck out like…..well, like a man hitting a log with a hammer.

I was wearing a pinstriped jacket, a waistcoat and a Tory conference pass – an ensemble which I shortly expected to accessorise with all the trappings of a blood-spattered, semen-stained canal-sunken death in down-town Birmingham. We who are about to die salute you, Google Maps.

Breathe easy dear reader (mum). I made it back to my hotel unscathed and stumbled off to the real conference site to learn about how Britain was prospering in austerity.

So I went to a few fringe events and stuff. But enough of that. We all know that the papers have told us that the conference didn’t really get into full swing until, at some point on the Monday morning, Boris Johnson’s train disgorged its flaxen-haired cargo at Birmingham New Street station and what Steve Bell whimsically dubbed the “media goat-fuck” could commence in earnest.

The content of BoJo’s speech to the salivating party faithful the following day was of no consequence whatsoever. He could have dropped his trousers and farted into the microphone for half an hour and still have them coughing up their pacemakers with laughter. In the event, Boris bounded onto the stage like a Dulux dog in heat and began to very loudly exhibit his considerable gift for compressing the largest amount of words into the smallest amount of thought. Chief and only topic: the Olympics. Something about how London was infected by “a benign contagion” the chief symptom of which was that all of its citizens were “suffused with a Readybrek glow”. Hard-hitting stuff. From my seat in the gods I glanced across the hall and saw that The Observer’s chief political commentator, Andrew Rawnsley was slumping further and further down his seat. By the time Boris was bellowing about “eudaemonia, eupepsia and euphoria” he was almost horizontal. Perhaps some kindly sniper had put the poor bastard out of his misery.

It mattered not. The crowd lapped it up. Indeed, had the weather not been so bitterly unkind to ageing joints, I fully suspect the Mayor of London would have been buried beneath an avalanche of enormous knickers from the blue-hairs in the front 5 rows.

Dave’s address the following day was an altogether more sober affair. He couldn’t afford to replicate Miliband’s extempore tales of magic and heroism on the dog-eat-dog streets of Primrose Hill; these are serious times and he had to be a serious Dave. For the most part, he delivered but that’s not what people showed up to see.

Dave may have had a job to do pretending he had the first idea how to run a country but Boris knew what the rest of them were there for. Party conferences, I have come to understand, are like the seediest of strip clubs. Party activists shamble in forlorn, disheartened and flaccid; looking to stuff sweaty handfuls of one dollar bills into their leaders’ ideological G-strings. After 4 days of titillation by the promise of electoral success, they are extruded onto the streets once more, wild-eyed and reinvigorated by a singular determination to hump the electorate into submission.

And if there is one man who can coax an orgiastic mob to the verge of campaigning climax, it is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.

I did raise an eyebrow when Dave expressed his desire to “beat off the suffocating bureaucracy” which put me fairly in mind of some sort of red-tape asphyxi-wank at the Bullingdon Club but that somewhat questionable turn of phrase aside, Boris was the star lap-dancing attraction. He was Cameron Diaz in The Mask and Salma Hayek in From Dusk Til Dawn all rolled into one. And Boris did good. He wanked that conference into a priapic frenzy and sent them out of the Birmingham Conference Centre ready to fuck anything that moved.

How long their “confidence” lasts, only time will tell. My guess is that by the time the first freshly fluffed Tory phallus is slammed in a constituency front door, the conference buzz will be a distant memory.

Also posted on The Huffington Post.

If we turn, turn, turn…

I’ll bet the Prime Minister would give his butler’s left leg right about now for a moratorium on the expression “U-turn”. Well actually given the choice, he’d probably rather expunge the term “omnishambles” from our shared lexicon but one fire-fight at a time.

Before we try to defend the government, let’s briefly plumb the depths of its incompetence. As Ed Balls, puce with poorly concealed glee, reminded us last week, the list of high profile government U-turns currently counts among its illustrious members: churches, pasties, caravans, charities, skips, petrol and as recently as yesterday Dave backtracked on the expansion of Heathrow.

Now a U-turn, in and of itself, is not an inherently negative thing if you accept (and I admit this proposition may entail a radical departure from popular opinion) that politicians are fallible creatures. I think that we can all just about entertain that notion, if only for the sake of argument. So, it follows that if they are fallible, they will make mistakes. Another novel concept, to be sure, but bear with me as we negotiate this labyrinth of abstraction.

If a politician has dropped a proverbial bollock in the noodles (to borrow Armando Iannucci’s joyous turn of phrase), the course of action implied by a U-turn would require the ability to recognise his error, hoik the offending organ from the bowl and give the contents a courtesy rinse. Now surely, this is a more commendable course of action for a statesman than someone who, to pursue what I now realise was an ill-chosen analogy, simply grits his teeth, liberally applies the Dolmio and pretends he is serving you up an extra meatball with your repast. Not exactly cutting off his nose to spite his face but…well, you get the idea.

If we accept that a U-turn is not an intrinsically bad thing, then it just comes down to an all-out dog fight between principle and pragmatism for the right to govern the conduct of our fearless leaders. Do we want someone who will stick steadfastly to their chosen path even when it leads them through the bramble patch of backbench revolt, the minefield of contrary public opinion and into the quicksand of political oblivion? Or would we rather elect someone who will kowtow to the baying media mob and toss principle to the pollsters at the merest whiff of antipathy? As ever, of course, the happy medium lies somewhere in the middle.

The Tories’ problem (Ed Miliband’s adenoidal hysteria notwithstanding) isn’t the relative merits of each individual volte-face but the sheer volume of them in aggregate. The solution, though, is a simple one (and by “solution” I mean something which definitely wouldn’t work but would be bloody hilarious). In fact, if you’re quiet enough, you can probably hear Steve Hilton bellowing it at his TV in California: change the terms of the debate. You idiot.

The expression “U-turn” drips with the disdain of leaders past and whimpers cowardice, venality and indecision. What Dave needs is a term which conjures to mind the image of an intrepid rally car driver slaloming along a succession of increasingly perilous hair-pin bends at break-neck speed as he navigates the treacherous topography of an economic landscape hand-sculpted by his incompetent predecessors.

So when the government executes its next courageous climb-down, don’t be surprised to read about a “stalwart swerve”, a “plucky pirouette” or a …… “gallant gyration”. Yeah I didn’t think this through.

Also posted on Huffington Post.