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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Jeremy Paxman: ‘lion of journalism’ or….git?

Paxo background

Why is this lying bastard lying to me?’

For many years, this was widely thought to be Jeremy Paxman’s governing consideration when interviewing senior politicians. In actual fact, the line was spoken by former colleague Louis Heren but it doesn’t take a particularly elastic imagination to see why the popular myth took root.

When, in June, Paxman finally hangs up those weary eyebrows and quits Newsnight, he will cap a glittering career. For 25 years, Paxman’s main talent has been the ability to ask questions of the foremost inconsequence in the manner of a courtroom drama auditionee.

Let me just get this straight, Prime Minister: are you really admitting, in front of an incredulous and god-fearing nation, many of whose citizens may well have fought for their country, some in an actual war, that you have no idea – NO IDEA – how many paving stones lie ASKEW in the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham?!’ That sort of thing.

It may or may not be my view that he ushered in a new species of ad hominem interrogation which was less ‘interviewing’ in the traditional sense and more just ‘being rude with impunity’. In fact, if you were to ask him to define journalism, he’d probably say it was ‘being professionally incredulous.’ No wait, that’s actually quite a good definition of journalism. He’d probably define it as something worse than that. Something to do with being a twat for money.

I mean granted, it’s enormously gratifying to watch doyens of the establishment splutter and squirm but surely the Reithian ideal is about public enlightenment by the unearthing of truth, not public titillation by sticking the boot into some luckless junior spokesperson who’s been wheeled out to defend the latest government U-turn. Because, of course, the U-turn is the worst thing in the world. It doesn’t matter what you’re turning from or to: simply being caught in anything even resembling a renunciation makes you look like you’re not omnipotent. Heaven forbid.

The point is it has always seemed far more important for Paxman to catch his interviewee looking flustered than to test the rigour of their argument or the right-headedness of their policy. If they stammered or mispronounced a word, that’d probably do. If a little bit of dribble came out, he’d get a knighthood.

Don’t get me wrong, it does serve a purpose to bring these people down a peg or several; to fluster them. But it shouldn’t be the only purpose. And by making it his only purpose, one might say Paxman has contributed to the rise of a political class who’ve made it their only purpose to avoid looking flustered. It doesn’t matter what they’re saying as long as they don’t look flustered.

One might even say that the viciousness of Paxman and his po-faced apostles is to blame for unleashing upon us a generation of politicians so comprehensively trained in how to deflect media scrutiny that it’s impossible to get any fucking sense out of them at all.

One might say that. Who am I to judge.

Anyway, at least Paxo is still going to keep dotting his Ts and rolling his eyes on University Challenge where his victims are of an altogether lower calibre. So we’ll be able to carry on watching him reduce callow virgins to masses of quivering acne over the correct pronunciation of Herodotus.

And I can’t see any downside to that.

I don’t know what my point was.

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.