In the Milibore era, pity the poor satirists
With Cameron, Clegg and Ed running the show, political dramatists and comedians face tough times ahead.
I hate to say I told you so, but I did before the candidates were even selected, so I will, whilst wiggling my fingers in front of my nose trilling (ba)na na na naaaaaaaaa: Ed Miliband is the new leader of the Labour Party.
My thesis (in those heady June days when we all fretted that the line-up might comprise only weird white men) was that since politics in general, and New Labour in particular, rests entirely on presentation, it was inevitable that the party must duly elect the candidate who had a proven track record of looking least like a berk in staged photo opportunities. (You might think this is trivial, but hell, I’m not the one who oriented the political news agenda last week around photographs of Hillary Clinton’s hair.) The politics of personality was always going to end in the politics of personal grooming, ability to navigate flashbulbs, point and wave while looking almost human, and here we have the result. Ten years of Blair’s masterful Campbell-camera style of government had been followed by three of Brown’s electroshock gurning; at least the union vote had learnt its lesson.
And so it came to pass, round by thrilling round. Hefty Diane Abbott was out. Conspicuous mascara wearer Andy Burnham was out. Blinker Balls was out. The elder Miliband was out – which should have shocked no one; he’d already ruled himself out of the contest by getting photographed with a banana in 2008. The view – that Ed must win it – was confirmed as early as September, on the evidence of excellent parliamentary sketchwriter Ann Treneman. On the campaign trail, Brother Ed not only encountered a bowl of fruit while there was a pack of photographers around – he actually came through the incident completely unscathed, largely thanks to his own smarts:
‘“Us Milibands are funny about shaped fruit”, he notes, plucking out an apple and avoiding the yellow peril that gave his brother the nickname Milibanana after he was pictured holding one and looking, well, a bit bananas. Later, on a trip to a community farm, I feel on the brink of a major news scoop when someone tries to make Ed hold a broccoli. “Ed does not need to hold the broccoli”, says his press handler as the green blob was extended. “I did a body swerve to avoid it”, he says later, standing next to a lorry-load of spuds.’
If only More4’s Miliband of Brothers, screened on the eve of the leadership election result, had done more with fruit and vegetables it might have squeezed a bit more juice from the David/Ed story. As it was, there was only a bit of archive footage with Peter Mandelson taking a chunk out of a Braeburn.
To be fair to the writer, David Quantick, who can be rather amusing on the radio and used to pen gags for Spitting Image, the fact that laughs were few and far between was probably down to the Milibands themselves, who are rather too dull to generate any, than any failing on his part. Charting the development of the brothers from the north London home of Chorizo Socialism, offered up at theorist father Ralph’s revolving dinner parties, through school, university and life under Blair and Brown, the best bit, drama-wise, was undoubtedly when David Miliband’s vocal enjoyment of one of Neil Kinnock’s speeches in his Oxford digs drowned out the noises of the copulating couple in the next room.
The docu bit of the drama hit its high with a rehearsal of Ed Miliband’s short-lived, and pathetic, student picket of Burger King, but otherwise was not particularly revelatory – having only three famous talking heads to do the jaw-jaw: ex-Labour MP Oona King, the Welsh windbag Neil Kinnock, and Observer hack Andrew Rawnsley (who has a book to sell).
King’s insights were as useless as her attempts to get elected. She inferred that while she had been cool at Haverstock Comprehensive, which David and Ed both attended as schoolboys, Ed Miliband had not. (If Ed Miliband had been cool at school he would not now be leader of the Labour Party – tell me something I don’t know, Oona.) Rawnsley’s line that Ed was known as ‘the emissary from Planet Fuck’ during his years agitating for Brown (because he was the only member of the then chancellor’s cabal who didn’t swear) was considered so exciting that it was repeated twice – which makes you worry about how much the trio were paid for their services if that was the only controversial line they could come up with.
Oh one fears for political comedy in the era of colourless Cameron, Clegg and Miliband minor. Photo gaffes aside, Quantick and Co. will have a job fashioning a bellylaugh out of any of them.
Emily Hill is a reporter on the Londoner’s Diary at the Evening Standard and is also spiked’s columnist on celebrity culture. Visit her personal website here.