We are told – and I have no reason to disbelieve it – that from today there are exactly 100 days to go until the 2015 General Election.
Inevitably, the average punter like me gains most of his impressions about what is going on in British politics from the radio and television. I prefer the latter because, whether the contributor is an MP, pundit, pollster or opinion former, somehow seeing the whites of their eyes (plus their demeanour, their posture, the degree to which they wave their hands to emphasise their points) seems to give the onlooker greater insight as to whether you can believe what they’re saying. Notice I said only ‘seems’.
This goes without saying for most of us, but the habit I recoil from more than any other is when – sometimes right from the ‘off’ and sometimes when they’re apparently running out of things to say – a politician begins trotting out the patter they’ve learned by rote in party HQ ‘finishing school’ seminars on how to perform in radio or television studios.
You know the sort of stuff.
“Just how much higher are you going to raise income tax and mansion tax on the rich?” asks the presenter of a junior member of the Opposition front bench.
[Needless to say, no answer to the specific question is given]. Instead the MP begins producing verbiage by the yard, until interrupted or he/she runs out of puff, as follows:
“… We want a fairer society. It is right that those with the broadest shoulders should pay the most … for more doctors and nurses in NHS hospitals, apprenticeships, educational improvements, free school meals, care homes for the elderly, better railways, filling in the millions of pot holes in roads up and down our country created by the previous government … [and so on, listing everything that would exist in an ideal world where cash grows upon trees, ad infinitum] …”
I’m not picking upon the Opposition per se – this applies to all MPs and all parties.
Then, what gets my goat even more, after others have chipped in with their own arguments, or different priorities, or challenging the first speaker’s blather … the first speaker gets his/her turn to respond … and … simply repeats the paragraph set out above once again!
I’d love the presenter at this point to raise their hand and say “No – I’m sorry. You’ve already said all that. Time is inevitably limited of a programme like this and, if you’re not going to say anything new, I’m going to cut you short. Next …!”
My regular politics-watching on television consists (when I’m around and remember they’re on) the daily BBC2 Politics Show at 11.30am or noon until 1.00pm, Prime Minister’s Question Time at 11.30am to 1.00pm on Wednesdays and the Andrew Marr Show and (again) the BBC’s Politics Show with Andrew Neil on Sundays.
Last Sunday, by chance, the last of these featured an interview by Andrew Neil with the Green Party leader Natalie Bennett. I was interested to see it, both to see how she performed and to learn a bit more about Green Party policies.
It was a classic example of car crash television.
First, Natalie is an Australian who migrated to Britain. That’s a minus, for a start – “What’s an Australian doing over here, getting involved in our politics, anyway?” I could hear a hundred thousand onlookers thinking.
Secondly, with a barely-disguised relish that some find annoying but I enjoy, Andrew Neil deployed the simple device of going through the Green’s policies as published, one by one, and probing just how sensible they really were – and how they would be paid for.
Natalie did her best, but she was shipping water practically before the interview had slithered down the slipway into the Clyde.
The Green’s ‘Big Thing’ was a ‘Citizen’s Income’ payment of £72 per week. Neil pointed out this would cost £280 billion to introduce – where would that come from? Natalie said she’d abolish Jobseekers’ Allowance and the tax-free allowance (Neil estimated this would come to about £3 billion in total) and … er … the rest would come from savings on administration of all other welfare items.
It appears the Greens want to relax immigration controls, reduce Defence spending to practically nil (retaining only a ‘Home Guard’/ceremonial sort of military), abolish Trident, and force Defence industry manufacturers to change to building windmills.
Natalie’s interview lasted a maximum 15 minutes and, to coin a phrase, amounted to the ‘shortest political suicide note in history’. That’s the Greens finished for 2015.
I can see now why Cameron is holding out for the inclusion of Uncle Tom Cobley and all in the much-vaunted Election Television Debates.
The more parties that are included, by definition the more fruitcakes you have, the more even the fairly dim British viewer/voter is going to realise that the only vote not wasted is going to be one for either the Tories or Labour.