Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Mr Ed Miliband Should Stop Talking About How Young He Is, Because He Is Growing Older And Less Fresh With Every Passing Moment

I am of an age where I can only be ambivalent about new leaders of the Labour Party. I was never very taken by the messianic drabness of Mr Tony Blair, who is the most successful leader of the People's Party, even though his success was based on what my old drama teacher, Mrs Ballet-Oliphant, of the Roxburghshire Ballet-Oliphants, used to call "charismatic misdirection". (Meaning that Mr Blair's vocal tunes were more powerful than the words he spoke, leaving the listener with the belief that they had witnessed something profound, when the text would show nothing more than ideological throat-clearing).
What were Mr Blair's memorable utterances? Well, despite his suppressed godliness, there was no "I have a dream". His fondness for global adventure did not produce an "ich bin ein Berliner". He did manage "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime", though this is more usually credited to Mr Gordon Brown, with due to deference to mild green Fairy Liquid. He, or Mr Alastair Campbell, coined the phrase "the people's Princess", which sounds profound, but is close to meaningless. And I think we can credit Mr Blair himself for the assertion that "today is not a day for soundbites... but I feel the hand of history upon our shoulders". (Now, as then, I wondered whether Mr Blair might have left the coat hanger in his suit jacket.)
Mr Blair also talked some nonsense about Britain being a "young country", which is not true in terms of the nation-state (Turkmenistan is a young country. Britain has a mobility scooter). Nor does it work as a statement about the age of its population.
Which brings me to Mr Ed Miliband's speech to Labour conference, his first as party leader. It was a very modern performance, devoid of poetry or persuasiveness. The prevailing style of political oratory these days is that of the office manager, explaining to a bored workforce that there will be no balloons at the Christmas party, and no party either. (The prime minister, Mr Cameron, increasingly adopts this posture, albeit with occasional flickers of Billy Bunterish derring-do; turning rapidly into derring-don't, as the "double-dip recession" thunders towards us,like a tsunami of black sherbet).
Mr E Miliband is not quite the finished article, but he has a decent grasp of conversational blandness. He could not, I think, convince a sceptic to purchase a second-hand Austin Allegro, but he radiates sincerity to the degree that a disinterested stranger might spray his trousers with a soda siphon if they were to unexpectedly catch fire. That I think, counts as a success in terms of achieving empathy with an electorate comprised largely of idiots.
But still, I found the core of his speech to rotten in a way that was very reminiscent of Mr Blair, namely his repetitive use of the phrase "new generation", a construction designed to signal optimism and freshness. Well, pardon my political correctness, but such talk is ageist, offensive, and wrong. Youth is greatly overrated, except by insurance companies, who understand that young people crash their parents' cars as lackadaisically as they breach the terms of their ASBOs. They turn our city centres into the seventh circle of Hell every weekend evening. And, as Ms Emma Thompson recently pointed out, they can no longer speak English without using the word "like" as punctuation. I hesitate to suggest that they could be improved by a spell of National Service, but a little instruction in elocution wouldn't go amiss. Perhaps, as the professional buffoon Mr Toby Young suggests, Latin classes would help. If nothing else, they would make text messaging more difficult.
But, like Mr Ronnie Corbett wrapped in sacrificial pigskin and dragged around town behind a Roman chariot, I digress. My point is that Mr Miliband should go easy on the New Generation nonsense. By stressing his youth, he merely ensures that with every 24 hours that passes, he will a day less able to fulfill his promise.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Senior Retainer, Mr Salmond, Does Not Believe The Scots Are Ready To Vote For Independence. Is This The Last Midge Bite Of Scottish Nationalism?

Living in the Borders has its advantages, not least the ready availability of Hawick Balls, and a plentiful supply of knitwear at reasonable prices. Less obviously to the outsider, we Borderers are blessed with an independent spirit, and a refusal to be swayed by flim-flam, tomfoolery or nonsense.
Perhaps this explains my antipathy towards the Palatul Parlamentului in Holyrood, and my inability to take seriously the windy ejaculations of the Senior Retainer, Mr Salmond, who leads a party whose main political impulse is to suggest that the accumulation of power in Edinburgh would solve everything, when the natural tendency of all Scots is to fear a future in which the nation is responsible for its own mess. Far easier to suggest, as Mr Salmond does repeatedly, that the country's problems are rooted in the fact that A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away.
To be fair, Mr Salmond is acknowledged as the finest Scottish politician of his generation (though his achievements, and his global impact, are minor compared to those of Mr Gordon Brown, whose misfortune it was to be raised in the Manse with the manners of a Fifer; a recipe too glum for the English electors, who prefer to be patronised by their social superiors).
But what are the achievements of Mr Salmond's period in office? Certainly, Mr Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi has reason to be thankful to the compassion of the Senior Retainer and his bewildered justice secretary Mr Kenny MacAskill. No doubt the lives of both politicians were made more exciting by their decision to thumb-nose the US Senate, and the thrilling realisation that every ring of the telephone might signal a verbal blast from Ms Hillary Clinton, calling on behalf of the relatives of the Americans who were killed by the Lockerbie bomb. How intoxicating it must have been to deal with an agent of real power, rather than trading glum platitudes over the blonde pews of Holyrood.
Compassion is a virtue. Still, the whole affair had the strange whiff of vanity's pomade, and reminded me of that other great moment of Scottish statesmanship, when the leotard-wearing pussycat from television's Big Brother, Mr George Galloway, saluted the indefatigability of Mr Saddam Hussein.
Even so, I find myself confused by the Senior Retainer's latest piece of fancy-footwork. He has announced that there will be no referendum on independence ahead of the Scottish parliamentary elections of 2011. Why has he done this? Well, clearly, Mr Salmond is acting from a position of weakness, and does not want to have his proposals for a referendum defeated by the hostile majority in the parliament. Yet, previously, this was a risk he was happy to take, as the scenario fitted perfectly with the SNP's core principle (the aforementioned Big Boy, and his habit of running away).
So, something more profound is at work. Could it be the realisation, rather too late in the day, that devolution, and more specifically the endless wittering about independence which it has spawned, have been bad for the country? Consider the nation in the years before the establishment of the parliament - we had a vibrant and diverse newspaper industry, and a football team which, while incompetent, could at least qualify for the rituals of humiliation at international tournaments. Now both of these things are but a shadow of a memory. The showpiece cultural event of this year's Edinburgh International Festival was Caledonia, a piece of agit-prop from which the agitation had been surgically-removed, and the propaganda replaced by an amputee itch for the lemming-leap of Darien or its modern equivalent, the national hallucination of Ally's Tartan Army, Argentina-bound in bathtub boats.
Scottish nationalism is a strange virus, carried by sheep-tick and midge. We are all bitten by it from time to time. We may never learn to stop scratching at the rash. But I wonder, momentarily, whether we may be getting close to discovering penicillin.