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.