A conference postcard: ‘Wish I weren’t here’
A reporter for the Londoner’s Diary tried to stay awake at the Miserabilist And Miliband Show at the Labour conference.
In Gordon Brown’s brave new Britain we are all supposed to be ‘just getting on with the job’ – however little suited we are to bringing home the bacon. And so it was that at 3pm in a Manchester coffee shop, having just paid for a panini and, by extension, the privilege of being able to record, exactly, what John Prescott had for afternoon tea (a chilled Muller Rice followed by a jacket potato), I got on with mine – reporting on the Labour Party conference – despite being in the midst of a terrible grey epiphany about the job in question.
There was a lesson to be learned in Manchester and it’s not the old one: that all politicians are mendacious bastards. No, they are completely honest, they believe their own guff (they would – quite happily – eat it for breakfast), they profoundly believe whatever they tell us, and whatever they tell us is profoundly boring. The themes of the Labour conference were ‘fairness’ and ‘change’ – two words that are now so utterly evacuated of meaning they may as well be expunged from the dictionary.
When a party in its death throes fails to tear itself apart, it is the hack’s job to create another ‘narrative’, as David Miliband would say. It was all about ‘narrative’ in Manchester. The narrative of change and of fairness. Yet somehow instead of getting dry drips of this in your newspapers, you probably had some ludicrous pictures of the foreign secretary, some commentary on how to make sense of events, and two scoops to read about: ‘Minister makes comment in elevator’ (Milibore = Heseltine) and ‘Aide gets drunk’ (Ruth Kelly resigns).
If journalists hadn’t been so enterprising, neither of these stories would have got out and no one would have read anything about the conference whatsoever. Which would have been all the better for you because the conference was ghastly. You wouldn’t think that the puff of New Labour could get mouldy – it was after all, only hot air to begin with – but somehow it has and you don’t want to be near enough to risk breathing it in through your nostrils.
The death of New Labour is nowhere so obvious as in the pictures of David Miliband holding a banana and the news – leaked – that The Milibore only went for six out of 10 on his conference drone because to do more might have risked a ‘Heseltine moment’; that is, it might have looked too obvious that he wants to oust Gordon Brown.
None of this would have happened under Alastair Campbell, who in orchestrating the slick glibness of the Labour Party may as well have been the architect of the whole ‘project’. In his absence, in the absence of his driven campaign to spread and control ‘the message’, the true nature of New Labour has been fully exposed. They’re nothing. Just a bunch of politicians shuffling around saying stupid things, some of them brandishing foodstuffs, Ed Balls pushing his own belly, and over it all, ambling about somewhere in the conference centre, the wheezing hulk of Charles Clarke on his way to another free lunch. Stripped off the New Labour gloss, which was only ever a lick of a paint for a defunct party, we can see Labour for what it is – and it isn’t pretty.
At fringe events, politicians and tired lefties ranted on about what Labour have done for you – you! – like the mother, for instance, who does not have to go to the loan shark to buy Christmas presents. Every call for questions was prefaced with ‘and I want a third of the questions to be from women!’. Now, I’m all for equality; and being equal means that I shouldn’t have to be jollied along into asking some no-mark a question if I don’t want to, thank you very much.
The conference speeches were even duller. Miliband managed to spend an interminably long period saying absolutely nothing. I sat through it and couldn’t think of a thing to say about it. Yet somehow Ann Treneman of The Times managed. Dave and Gord grinned away at the end ‘as if they were in some awful toothpaste advert’, she said. Which was exactly right. And she accurately pinpointed what is wrong with Miliband’s school-marmish whining and hectoring – it’s because of his weirdo robotic self standing at the podium:
‘The man has a rubber face, that swivelling neck and incredibly long arms that seem to operate with an extension device. His eyebrows jump around like rabbits. The hand gestures are baroque: he has one that is like that “Here is the church, here is the steeple” hand game. Fascinatingly, his eyebrows at times coordinate with his hand gestures. It is easy to imagine him as being a cartoon first and a human second.’
This gives you far more insight into David Miliband than the man could ever merit. Everyone at the back of the class should just get on with talking amongst themselves and ignore the horrid thing trying ever so hard to bear down upon us.
Politicians would like you to believe that the press is getting between them and its public. This is why they set up such daft entities as Blair’s ‘Big Conversation’ and the Downing Street petitions-for-eejits. If we take politicians at their word, then we should be grateful for journalists. Hacks do a bigger public service than those whose wages are actually coming out of the national kitty – for it seems it is only those who write about politics for a living who hold us at one remove from being hectored, whined at and bored senseless by people too inherently narcolepsy-inducing to survive a career in anything but contemporary public life. To a man, politicians today are odious, the creeps you spent your school life trying to avoid when they were milk monitor; there seem to be very few heroic or even genuinely interesting politicians.
If you read everything that was written coming out of conference, it is true, you would feel rather queasy. There are some journalists, hand in glove with certain polticians, who fancy themselves as latter-day Kreminologists, deciphering the balance of power round the Cabinet table. But there are certain correspondents who cut through all the crap and see the wasteland of interest that some of us call the GMEX centre.
Robert Shrimsley of the FT, for instance, has skewered the meaning of Gordon Brown’s conference speech in a couple of paragraphs: ‘Mr Brown has now shown us his strategy to stay in power – miserabilism. As he said, serious times require a serious leader. There is logic to this, but it does give him a vested interest in keeping things gloomy. The moment things perk up, we no longer need him. Crises are the key to survival.’
Shrimsley continues: ‘We will hear him in the House; he will have nothing to offer us but doom, gloom, misery and torment. Just when we think things are looking brighter, he will pop up on TV unpacking our troubles from his old kit bag, warning of bad times just around the corner and assuring us that – in the words of Noel Coward – we can all look forward to despair.’
This is the central truth – but what does it tell us? That when it comes to the politics offered by the Miserablist Brown and the Moron Miliband there is no response more rational than apathy. Sketch writers, hacks and their hullabaloo are only obfuscating and occasionally rendering amusing what should be obvious.
Emily Hill is a reporter on the Londoner’s Diary at the Evening Standard. Visit her personal website here.
Previously on spiked
Emily Hill reported on last year’s bloodless Tory conference. Mick Hume argued that parliamentary politics has become a battle of courtly cliques. Elsewehere he looked at the fall of Gordon Brown and argued that despite claims of a Labour revival you can’t revive a corpse. And to mark the beginning of Gordon Brown’s reign, Brendan O’Neill listed 10 reasons why Brown is not fit to be Prime Minister. Or read more at spiked issues British politics.
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