Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Prince William's Wedding Is An Act Of Great Optimism. He Must Hope He Is Heir Only To His Father's Hair, And Not His Matrimonial Tricycle

The news that HRH Prince William is to marry his lady friend, Miss Kate Middleton, is, of course, to be welcomed. One must always accept tokens of optimism as they are dispensed, and there can be no more optimistic act than for the heir to the heir to the throne - who is also heir to the heir's hair, or absence of same - proposing to enter wedlock with a civilian, and "sealing the deal" by producing his mother's ring.
The point does not need to be stressed, but the marriage between the Waleses, Charles and Diana, was nobody's idea of a dream. To borrow the modern vernacular, one might almost say it was a car-crash of a relationship, if such an observation was not in obvious bad taste. But, viewed with cruel hindsight, it was an advertisement for the uselessness of arranged marriages, and a danger to the mythology of the Crown, which relies on a cocktail of magic and deference for its continued survival. One might ask now, what the Prince of Wales thought he was doing when he condemned the innocent Diana to her dreadful fate? Presumably, when he mounted his matrimonial tricycle, he thought that the usual rules of the road applied, wherein the foibles of the posh are forgiven on account of their splendid manners. (See also Mr Julian Fellowes' contemporary riot of forelock-tugging, Downton Abbey).
I know nothing of the relationship between HRH Prince William, and Miss Kate Middleton, and while I suspect the size of this void will be greatly increased by speculative verbiage over the next six months, I fully expect to know even less of the reality of their lives by the time they make it along the aisle. I do wonder, though, whether they will be forced to take note of the tenor of the times, and celebrate their nuptials with a cut-price ceremony, perhaps in hired ermine and recycled lace to match the second-hand ring, or whether Royal tradition will dictate that the poor huddled masses require an escapist binge to compensate for the absence of paid employment, benefits, homes to live in, or legal aid to fight over the custody of the dog-on-a-string when their hasty and probably fraudulent relationships fall apart due to the unforeseen pressures of the above. I am no public relations guru, but I tend towards the suggestion that unrestrained opulence would be a rather bold strategy for these straitened times. Perhaps, as a means of symbolically cutting the Royal cloth, the beano could be subsidised by a temporary tax on Duchy Originals' Velvety Beetroot Soup.
Many have commented on the fact that the broader culture seems to be locked in a strange tribute to the 1980s, with a careless Conservative government promoting inequality, and leaving the Falkland Islands undefended in the hope that the Argies will invade. I am not really in a position to judge this observation, as Peebles is locked in a permanent state of 1962, and is all the better for it.
In the meantime, I wish the couple well. Royal weddings are a mug's game, and I trust that this marriage will last long enough to be toasted in a ceremonial souvenir, before its inevitable descent into junk shop, and on to historical curiosity.

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.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mr Elder's Guide To Understanding The Election, Involving Chewing Gum, And A Gratuitous Joke About Mr Salmond's Expanding Briefs

Elections are traumatic events, promising milk, honey, and liquorice torpedoes for all, but delivering little but disappointment and mild angina. The cycle of hope and despair is so predictable that it is possible to become quite jaded by the political merry-go-round.
However, rather than fall back on the counsel of despair, or, indeed, the council of despair, I like to quote Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, KG, OM, CH, TD, PC, who noted that democracy was “the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”
He also said “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on”, which has always troubled me. To think of untruths is bad, but to imagine the truth wearing pants is confusing indeed. What kind of unmentionables would the truth favour? A traditional Y-front? A sensible pair of Sunspel boxers? Or something from the terrifying range of posing pouches which have made a visit to Marks and Spencer so traumatic?
But, like Mr Ronnie Corbett, pedalling a Sinclair C5 along the Dirleton bypass in a hurricane, I digress. My point is elections, and what must be done to survive them.
My solution to this conundrum is to apply the Chewing-Gum Test. This test is based on the fact that while the promises of the political parties range from naively utopian to disappointingly pragmatic, nothing changes. At least, not for the better. The Chewing-Gum test can be carried out on any stretch of urban pavement. It asks a simple question: has the volume of gum on the ground increased or diminished since the last election?
As a measure of efficacy, it works on several levels. The removal of chewing gum from the streets would show a commitment to the environment and the well-being of the electorate. But there is an element of personal responsibility, too. In a decent society, no-one would spit gum on to the pavement. Indeed, in a properly ordered society, no-one would chew gum in the first place.
The test neatly illuminated the different approaches of the parties. If I understand Mr Brown’s New Labour party correctly – and I confess I cannot grasp the meaning of the slogan “a Future Fair For All”, unless it is promising gaudily-painted jetpacks for the populace – it would do nothing to discourage the sale of chewing gum, unless a freak worldwide chuggy incident threatened the survival of the planet, whereupon the leading chewing gum manufacturers would be taken guiltily into public ownership, unless they were based outwith the UK (which they would be), until confidence in the breath-freshening confectionery sector returned.
On the matter of removing this sticky detritus from the streets, New Labour would employ the full machinery of the surveillance state to observe the problem without ever addressing it, while also introducing a range of emergency ASBOs, designed to catch the worst offenders, though any legal action taken under these measures would be repealed under the Human Rights Act. There would also be an education programme, designed to stop people spitting in the street, but this would be so patronisingly-designed that it would cause previously polite people to actively consider hacking up sputum and Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit.
Mr Cameron’s Conservatives, who unveiled their manifesto at Battersea Power Station, as if to remind the electorate of the Tories magic touch with regard to the creation of industrial wastelands (and the accidental implication that, in the manner of the Pink Floyd record sleeve, pigs might fly), have a no less complicated approach. They do not address chewing gum problem directly, but their manifesto, with a cover designed like a brochure for a high-toned timeshare development, offers the glorious promise that a Conservative government will do nothing except encourage the more motivated sectors of the populace – aka the wealthier, more able-bodied people – to form vigilante groups in order to root out whichever problem takes their fancy. But, since they are also libertarians at heart, they will do nothing to curb the rights of people to chew gum, and will rely on “have-a-go heroes” to intervene when a spitting incident at the bus stop is observed.
On the approach of the Liberal-Democrats, I have no firm understanding. In the salad days of the SDP, I had much sympathy for Lord Steel, who was then known by the less grand title of Wee Davy Steel, because it can’t have been easy living in the top pocket of Lord, then David, Owen. But the new generation of Liberal Democrats confuse me. Mr Nick Clegg has been making every effort to look less like Mr Cameron’s shy brother, but he is routinely left in the shade by the Nation’s Favourite Shadow Chancellor, Dr Vince Cable. This, I think, is something of an achievement, as Dr Cable has all the charisma of a former economist for Shell Oil, and is forgiven a lot by virtue of the fact that he is a keen ballroom dancer. What this odd couple would do about chewing gum I hesitate to say, as, I suspect, would they.
Which leaves the Ego of the Nation, the Senior Retainer, Mr Alex Salmond. He would argue, I think, that the chewing gum problem, along with every other problem, is the fault of London, and cannot be addressed until Scotland has control of oil revenues, and has harvested the pot of gold at the end of the arc of prosperity which stretches from Ireland to Iceland. But he might also argue that his administration was quick to tackle smoking (leaving me and my pipe with a remote corner of Gruinard on which to enjoy a fly puff of the Walnut Plug). They have also been making windy exhortations about alcohol and obesity, which is fortunate, when the BBC’s national election coverage invariably involves the excellent Mr Brian Taylor conspiring to make Mr Salmond look like Twiggy.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Prime Minister's Tunnock's Teacake Offensive Is A High-Risk Strategy In The Bantustans of Middle England

My mother, Mrs Elder (or Ma'am) was one of nature's floating voters. Her broad opinion of politicians was that they should be gathered in a sack, like kittens, and thrown in the nearest canal. (She had no time for felines, on account of sharing a crib with four irascible tabbies in early childhood; an experience which also led to her being unusually fond of ocean sticks). But I am a citizen and a democrat, and find the whole business of politics exciting; until I encounter an actual politician.
How is it, I wonder, that career politicians make such of bad job of being appealing? I suppose it is because they are trying so hard to be liked, and there is nothing more offputting than someone pretending to be likeable. The Prime Minister, Mr Brown, is at his most compelling when he ignores the advice of his spin doctors (and his rather terrifying wife) and allows his glower to flourish. I am told that in person he is a personable fellow, with only a slightly larger than average tendency to hurl his mobile telephone at the foreheads of strangers. And I have no doubt that he cares deeply about public service.
Yes, Mr Brown is a true son of the Manse. That, I suppose, is why he has decided to campaign by having tea with as many electors as he can. Whether this will work, I hesitate to predict. Do the swing voters of Kent and Northampton appreciate the sudden arrival of Mr and Mrs Brown and their camp followers? If nothing else, such a visit will interrupt Cash in the Attic (a programme from which the Chancellor could learn a trick or two).
But are these tea-parties even real? They look oddly stage-managed. As evidence, I noted that the couple in Kent who hosted the PM yesterdayy served Tunnock's Teacakes. Perhaps they did this out of consideration of Mr Brown's sweet tooth. But I suspect that the image-conscious PM supplied his own biscuits. Now,I cede to no one in my admiration for the mallowy centre of the Tunnock's teacake, or the sensual fragility of its chocolate dome. But a prime minister of all the nations should embrace diversity; for the voters of the Shire have a broad palate. He must eat Maidstone biscuits in Maidstone, Grasmere gingerbread in Grasmere, Kentish Cobnut cake in Kent, and Bath buns in Bath. When in Wigan, he must sook on Uncle Joe's mint balls. It is a tough job, but Mr Brown - the paunchiest of the party leaders - must now show he has the appetite for the fight.