Wednesday, 14 April 2010

How To Launch A Manifesto

The three main parties have all now released their manifestos.  And now it's Thursday.  How do you feel?  Empty?  A little bit post-coital?  Yeah, me too.  I don't know how I'm going to get to the weekend, let alone the next General Election.  How can I go a single morning without some shiny-faced would-be demagogue flinging lukewarm intellectual porridge at me?  I mean, obviously there's Thought For The Day, but that seems a mere amuse bouche now that I've tasted the three full, gloopy courses of the feast.

So, look.  I was thinking: we could do it ourselves.  We could each take turns to issue a manifesto - one a day so that we get our full RDA of feeling a bit nonplussed.  Obviously, this is a big step.  The major parties have been working on theirs since, ooh, at least when they took delivery of the beer mats and fag packets that their marketing blokes ordered and they could get their pens out.  If we are to make a go at this, I reckon it might be worthwhile to have a few guidelines so that we don't all accidentally end up writing something else, like a novel, or a recipe.  Seriously, it can happen; the recipe for Banoffee Pie was the first draft of Das Kapital.  True story.

Here, then, is a simple DIY guide to launching a manifesto.

1)  Get some buzzwords.  

There are several ways to go here.  The Tories went for the refrain 'We The People', thus giving away that they basically wish they were doing politics in a different, more glamorous country.  Perhaps you might like to borrow something from another culture yourself.  Maybe "Arbeit Macht Frei", or "Mola Ram, Sula Ram".

The Lib-Dems had a go at being ultra-modern with their references, Nicholas Cleggolas talking about "hard-wiring fairness into society."  Bang up to date.  The date in this case being some time in the 1990s, clearly, but the effort is noted.  Perhaps you could talk about "Floppy Disk Britain" or "SodaStream Society".

Labour tried to give the impression of energy and struggle: "restless and relentless reformers" they said they'd be.  Perhaps you could describe yourself as something similar: "antsy and incessant" or "ADHD with a twist of passive aggression".

2) Get an Image.

The actual, physical manifesto has to look like something, even though it is basically on a one-way trip to the green bin by the gate.  The Tories went for that slightly spare, sombre look you would normally associate with vanity publishing or the slim volumes of poetry that despotic leaders all seem to release.  Labour chose a sort of The-Kremlin-Just-Bought-The-Poster-Painters-A-Couple-More-Colours vibe.  And the Liberal Democrats resigned themselves to going the The-Budget's-All-Gone-But-The-Intern's-Brought-His-Laptop route.  This leaves you with a number of thus far unclaimed options, to whit:

-Something that looks a bit like the X-Factor design.
-Free DVD of Catherine Cookson miniseries on the cover.

3) Choose a launch setting.

Labour surprised us all by holding their launch in a hospital and having Gordon Brown stand in front of footage of a cornfield.  This, presumably, was to marry the notions of success (hospital) and hope (cornfield).  In the event it just looked like the patients were being visited by a theatre therapy group with the worst production of Oklahoma ever.  The Conservatives symbolically held theirs in a famously derelict building that's been unsuccessfully trying to renew itself for a couple of decades and Nicholas Cleggolas stood in front of a blue screen, presumably so that they can chromakey in a picture of whichever party the Lib Dems end up backing later on, once they've decided.

Again, plenty of possibilites go unspoken for:

- Stonehenge/Cerne Abbas/That Big Chalk Horse
- Mrs. Thatcher's Gaping Maw
- Nandos

4)  Think of Some Policies

Now, this sounds hard and it might seem odd that it's last on the list, but in truth it's very easy.  You don't need policies and you certainly don't need detail when it comes to the actual launch. It's best to avoid trying to name specific policies in any event in case you commit to something.  Just look at how the main parties do it - we've still not really got a straight answer from any of them on where they stand on the repeal of the Corn Laws.  Really, what you are trying to convey to 'Them, The People' is the general thrust of your ideas - your basic direction.  And this couldn't be easier because there are only three available:

- Mend Broken Britain.
- Ask Broken Britain to mend itself.
- Get a big stack of yellow pages and a phone and ring round all the Broken Britain menders, asking for quotes.

Oh, and don't forget - crossword in the middle for light relief and TV listings on the back.

Monday, 12 April 2010

High in Saturated Colour, Low in Policies

So far this election campaign, a week old tomorrow, has held little in the way of surprises. It’s just been a collection of jabberjaws you either don’t believe or don’t believe can win saying the things you expect them to say. These usually involve figures that are either so ridiculously simplistic that they would make a primary school reception class roll their eyes in boredom or so arcane and involved that trying to penetrate them would probably even wear down that battery that makes Stephen Hawking work.

Hurray for something unexpected, then. The Labour Party have finally made a radical left-turn. Not in terms of policy or politics, it must be said, but more in the general area of what they’ve been up to lately. So far, as you might expect, they have concentrated on activities pertaining to the upcoming General Election. Today, however, they took the bold, radical and interesting step of launching a new brand of margarine. Here’s the lid:

I assume it's margarine. It certainly looks like it is. I know "A Future Fair For All" probably seems a little odd, but since "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" opened Pandora's Box of tedious zany names 15 years ago, that sort of shit's been all over the place.

Somebody I was listening to seemed convinced that this is in fact the cover of the Labour manifesto, but that's just crazy talk. Unless the Future referred to is the one that happened just after 1945, when the picture appears to have been drawn.

So yes, margarine. Or perhaps I'm mistaken and they've just released an album of Lemonjelly covers. Either way, it's not Politics As Usual and - goldarnit! - isn't that what the public want?


Due presumably to some sort of mix-up in the marketing department, Labour also chose today to launch their manifesto. I haven't actually seen a copy of it yet but as I understand matters it's deliberately short on big ideas. Big Gord has gone for low-key, realistic, boring in the hope that that appeals to the British public. This is the same British public, remember, who voted Jordan as Mum of The Year, so I'm not sure his faith is entirely well-placed.

Still, no matter how understated, every manifesto needs its core idea. To put into context exactly how low-key Labour have gone, the central policy this time is as follows:

"We undertake, within the five years of the next parliament, to scare away all the crows in the field."


In the meantime, I fear that this may be the very last of my blog entries for the foreseeable future. I realise what a blow this must come as - I assure you this is not of my doing and there is little that could tear me away from my either of my loyal following, but "there comes a tide in the affairs of men when something something something." Shakespeare. Or one of those. What I am saying is that I have been called to A Higher Duty. Modesty would normally prevent me and all that, but I am too excited to keep it in.

I shall have to stop clapping my hands in glee for a moment and concentrate on typing. What do you think I received this evening? Have a look at this:

Well, I mean, obviously this is a tremendous honour but I think it's the vote of confidence in my abilities that I find most affecting. I never would have thought that relentlessly twittering or spending two hours out of every five trying to master the B-side of Abbey Road on Beatles Rock Band were the kind of qualities that most would-be Prime Ministers might find attractive in a potential cabinet appointee, but this just goes to show how little I know about the inner workings of politics.

Golly, you just wait till I get my feet under the ministerial desk; that guy down the road with the over-sensitive car alarm isn't going to know what hit him. Oh yeah. Him and his ever-trampolining children. Backyard ASBOs coming your way as Policy Number 1. Tax on Findus Crispy Pancakes is Policy Number 2. I am going to crush those noisy bastards.

I mean, I assume that Conservative Central Office have run a full background check on me. I assume my views are in line with what they deem acceptable. You wouldn't want to invite just anyone to be part of a government.

Unless I've got this wrong again and it's actually a thuddingly heavy handed pitch at having us believe that they'll give a rat's second-best ass for what anyone outside of Whitehall or the Cayman Islands thinks about anything from roughly May 7th onwards. It can't be, can it? Lord, that would have all the subtlety of a sequoia falling on your house.

So no, I shall brush up my policies. Number 3... Hmm... 1% extra income tax for people whose wall-mounted plasma screens illuminate the street after dark, I think.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Fish, barrel. Barrel, fish.

Pretty much all of the UK franchises have been renamed now. UK Gold 2 became 'Dave - The Home of Witty Banter', then UK Gold became 'G.O.L.D.', which seems only appropriate for a channel which basically takes perfectly workable programmes and inserts annoying breaks into the middle of them. So why, I wonder, is the last of the franchises, the UKIP, holding out? Surely right before an election campaign is the perfect time to rebrand. I would suggest that they take their cue from Dave and go for something along the lines of Geoffrey - The Home of Clunking Bluster.

It's not been a terrific week for UKIP. Granted, that doesn't really set it apart from most other weeks; you might as well just say, "It's been a week." However, even by their own standards, this one hasn't been a bowl of spaghetti. As far as I can tell, it's usually the case that if UKIP turn up on the news, they've done something inadvisable. One of their number, Paul Wiffen, this week did something that was very on the news indeed.

Mr. Wiffen is a UKIP official. the news stories I read didn't specify in precisely what capacity he operates, so I like to think that it's his job to remember to take hankies to party meetings for people to wipe the froth and spittle away with. He is also standing in Ilford South as a candidate. If you were writing a sitcom featuring a UKIP candidate then you may well have settled on the name Paul Wiffen anyway; it's perfect. You would also, probably, have set it in Ilford South. At any rate, Mr. Wiffen posted a comment to a blog which I shall spare you but which included the phrases "left-wing scum", "romanian gipsies" and "muslim nutters". You can imagine the rest. On getting caught, the great clattering poltroon said, "When I read the lies about UKIP being a racist party I just saw red and fired off an angry email." Mmm. Or more accurately, "When I read the lies about UKIP being a racist party, I just saw red and fired off a racist email."

The UKIP issued an apology which had roughly the same levels of reluctance and conviction you would think Bill Clinton probably employs when apologising to his wife on what I would imagine is a roughly weekly basis. In it they included the suggestion that while Mr. Wiffen's choice of words might have been a bit off, these were issues that the British people wanted to discuss. Well that's as maybe, but I'm not sure the Community Care website is the place to do that. Might I respectfully suggest that if the British people want to discuss left-wing scum, Romanian gypsies and Muslim nutters they find out whatever pub Richard Littlejohn drinks in and hang about in there till knocking off time.

I think one of the UKIP's main problems - apart from the fact that they look like the village am-dram society having a crack at Wagner's Ring Cycle - is that they're not very good with words. Today Lord Pearson (I'm pretty sure he's a real lord, but it's entirely possible they've just modelled their hierarchy on the Sith's Galactic Empire) referred to Brussels as a "corrupt octopus". This was presumably intended, as these sorts of phrases generally are, as a colourful and apposite metaphor which we would enjoy and possibly repeat endlessly instead of thinking properly about the subject for ourselves. In reality, it's the kind of weird phrase that has you wondering what time the pubs open where he lives. I look forward to his views on the NHS ("recalcitrant elephant"), the education system ("bewildered termite") and the UKIP itself ("tremendous bull").


Mind you, having said that, there was evidence this very day that the corrupt octopus has wiggled its tentacles even into the rhetoric of politicians. Nicholas Cleggolas, the political equivalent of the girl someone's going to end up going home with when the nightclub chucks out whether they like it or not, observed that if one of the two main parties were to win with a slender majority and started imposing cuts then this might lead us, the General Public, to switch off our television sets, go out and do something more riot-y instead, as I believe Why Don't You..? would have put it. The exact phrase that Cleggolas used was that such an election result could lead to "Greek-style unrest."

Greek-style unrest? Is that like Greek-style yoghurt and Feta-effect cheese? Well, thank-you Brussels for your labeling legislation. Next week: Andy Burnham gives a speech on Labour's plans for the future of the National Health Service-style Organisation.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Start The Bentley, Baby, We're Goin' To The Cayman Islands

A very short entry today. Two reasons for this: Firstly, I’ve spent most of the day visiting Godstone Farm in Surrey, where I was able to see some actual horseshit for a change. And secondly, I’ve very suddenly decided to spend some quality time with my wife.

You know, marriage isn’t an easy ride. No, sir, it needs working at, like sass or that dance that won Strictly for Jill Halfpenny the other year. It must be nurtured and cared for and one other similar verb. And that can sometimes be quite difficult; people grow apart, interests change. Some marriages reach a point where a decision must be made: should we stay together? Should we accept that this is our lot and make the best of it, or for our own sanity and that of those around us call it quits and move on?

It is a tragedy when a marriage reaches that point. What do you suppose could persuade people in that situation to just keep on pushing through the pain?

Three quid a week in tax breaks you say, Mr. Cameron? Why, that’s… that’s it!

Instantly, round the country, couples whose relationships are foundering on malaise, boredom, disinterest and mutual disdain see things differently. But more even than that, think what they could do with the money. This is a double whammy! Not only will it at a single stroke rescue the dying institute of marriage, but it’s just the fillip the beleaguered British pick’n’mix industry needs.


(Hopefully Occasional) Daily Mail Watch

The Daily Mail – which should replace the crest in the middle of its masthead with a picture of a big purple vein – runs on Saturday with another excellent headline: “Migrant City’s Cry For Help”. This raises the extraordinary vision of cities being forced to move away from their own counties for reasons of economy or persecution. I’m sure the article probably specifies which one has been put in this position, but as it’s the Mail I can’t bring myself to read it. If I had to guess, though, I’d go with Chester. It’s got Hampshire written all over it.

Thursday, 8 April 2010


What do you suppose might be the clincher for you when you’re deciding how to vote on May 6th? The economy? The need to preserve the public sector? It’s tricky isn’t it? So much to think about and I don’t know about you but my poor little brain can’t cope with all these big questions. Wait a minute! I know! What about that bracelet I always wear? That’ll show me the way. Yes, that’s it – that bracelet with letter beads reading WWMCD threaded on it, like this was still 1992 and it was all right to dress yourself in stuff you bought at Shared Earth.

WWMCD. What Would Michael Caine Do? That’s how I live my life. I make all my decisions by asking that question. It’s how I ended up hiring a Mini in Turin that time and why I absolutely never, ever shoot until I see the whites of their eyes. Still, the problem is it’s not always possible to be sure about precisely what he would do. If only there were some way of finding out…

Wait a minute! There he is! There! Standing next to David Cameron! Telling us that he’d vote Conservative! Oh, thank-you! Thank-you, you multi-millionaire tax exile, for showing me the way. Thank-you for synthesising all the complex and ever-developing arguments and viewpoints posited by all the various parties on the many and varied elements of policy that will affect the economy, the make-up of society, the extent of people’s rights and the size of the state for five years or more and calculating the answer for all of us. And thank-you David Cameron for giving us the opportunity to hear what Michael has to say. At last I can stop thinking about this and go back to sitting on the sofa with my head cocked to one side, dribbling.


Big Gordon’s laid it on the line. The man formerly know as the Iron Chancellor (nothing to do with his shepherding of the Economy for all those years, it’s just that he once went to a fancy dress party as Bismarck) has said “We must do what is needed to secure the recovery.”

That. Is. Brilliant. What an excellent idea. You know, if it came down to a straight choice between someone who thought we should do what is needed to secure the recovery and someone who didn’t think that, I reckon I’d go with the former.

Other similarly radical positions Gordon might like to consider adopting include: “We must do everything we can not to hit anyone in the face when we turn round with a plank over our shoulder,” “We must remember not to melt all the tarmac off the roads with a giant magnifying glass,” and “We must do what is necessary to ensure that we don't flood the water supply with Angel Delight.”


Ah, the Liberal Democrats. You know… the Liberal Democrats? The Liberal Democrats. The yellow ones. That’s it. Well anyway, what are they doing to Vince Cable?

There’s much to admire about Vince Cable: the fact that he keeps bees and has fervently fought to bring the crisis of the diminishing apine population to the attention of Parliament in the face of the usual braying idiocy that seems to affect people once their arse comes into contact with the battered green leather of the House of Commons benches; the fact that he is an ace ballroom dancer and never goes on about it, thus clearly has an actual life outside of politics; the fact that he appears to have been dropped into his clothes back to front and then had them yanked round the right way whilst still wearing them. Most of all there’s the fact that he possesses one of the finest economic minds in British politics and has somehow managed over these last months to restrain himself from going batshit in the Chamber and punching as many people out as he could before that chap in the black tights could stop him with the Mace.

Shame, then, that he isn’t being let out on his own. Poor Vince – condemned by his brilliance to stand next to Nicholas Cleggolas, lending him credibility. It won’t work, really. Cleggolas’ tragedy is that he just doesn’t have weight. We believed Ashdown. Partly, it must be admitted, because we were aware that he knows exactly where the pressure points are on the human body and could down you faster than you could say “What’s wrong with First Past The Post?” Charlie Kennedy had a nice line in worldiness and looking like he’d take the ministerial boxes down the pub if he wasn’t finished with the paperwork by closing time. But Cleggolas? No. Standing Vince next to him doesn’t lend him the weight he’s missing, it just looks for all the world like Grandad’s come to support Little Nicky at the sixth form debating competition.

Let Cable be Cable (right, West Wing fans?) and then they might get somewhere, those Liberal Democrats… The Liberal Democrats The yellow- Never mind.


More excellence this morning from The Daily Mail, the only national newspaper that you suspect might one day actually have a stroke right in front of your eyes. Since Labour came to power, it says, 1.67 million jobs have gone to a foreigner. To their credit, and somewhat against type, they don’t go so far as actually to name the foreigner in question, although I think we all probably suspect it’s Graham Norton.


What’s happened to ‘The Great Ignored’? DavCam seems to have dropped them. Now, let’s try thinking like a political strategist here. Has he done it because the phrase is the clumsiest and most insulting thing we’ve seen since Noel Edmonds stopped doing those Gotchas? Or… is it something far cleverer than that? You see, by effectively ignoring the Great Ignored is he not just making them even more ignored? Which makes the case for fighting for them even more pressing, thus making him look like a hero? God, he’s good. He’s really good.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Beta Mail

The morning after the declaration before is always good for papers nailing their colours to the mast, but this morning saw something, well, something else.

For many years I assumed that the media in this country charitably arranged things amongst themselves so as to ensure that we all get into the office on time of a morning: Not out of bed yet? Not to worry, here’s Thought For The Day to propel you from under the duvet and into the shower. Shuffling dozily about the kitchen as you prepare breakfast, unable to shake the sleep from your noggin? No matter, here’s John Humphrys being unbearably high-handed and shouty; if he’s not got you on your hands and knees picking transistors and bits of shattered tuning dials out of the cat’s As Good As It Looks steaklets within three minutes then you should probably consult a physician. Flagging a little as you buy your paper? A quick glance at the headline on the Daily Mail ought to do the trick. If it doesn’t on its own then the effort required not to scream “Fffffffffuck off!” into the face of the nearest passer-by will.

Not this morning. The Daily Mail dropped the ball. Usually they’re so good at producing headlines of simple, unspeakable hatefulness, claiming that immigrants have found ways of entering the country through the National Grid and squeezing themselves out of your wall sockets, or that paedophiles are grooming children by getting jobs as ice creams. The kind of thing that wakes you from torpor. This morning, they’ve just gone for the “Wwwwuh…?” card; a headline which would make you shake your head and assume you just needed a bit more sleep so that everything started making sense again:


I’m just going to retype that so that you know this isn’t an error:


Again? OK:


I see.

Dear The Daily Mail,

What in the name of Holy Shaboom are you talking about?

Yours sincerely,

Absolutely Everybody Else.

What class war? What are they talking about? Is this a previously unsuspected class war between the upper-lower-middle classes and the lower-upper-middle classes? Is there perhaps a class that we haven’t spotted yet? Some thus far unexplored bit out the other side of the upper classes where the circle joins back up with the lower classes? Tramps, in other words (makes a kind of sense – tramps sleep rough but in top hats).

What they are referring to, it seems, is Gordon Brown’s description of himself as having come from an ‘ordinary’ background. In light of this, it’s difficult to see where the Mail are positioning themselves. Are they worried that Brown is excluding extraordinary people like Rebecca Adlington and The Thing out of The Fantastic Four? Or have they finally found an embattled corner of the British populace they can speak for (as well as arseholes who complain about speed cameras, obviously)? Are they coming out as standing up for the oppressed minority of public school alumni? About time someone did. Those poor bastards. Have you any idea how much those Bullingdon Club uniforms cost? Ordinary people don’t have to deal with that kind of thing, do they?

Or could it be – and I’ve got to be honest, this is the frontrunning theory to my mind – could it simply be that the Daily Mail is prepared to publish any kind of weak-assed bullshit to further its political ends, much as it does with its endless harrying of the BBC?

Nah. I expect it was a typo.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Day 1 - It's On, Baby, It's ON.

It's 'Go!' for the Rock and A Hard Place election 2010.

In a move which makes Jack Bauer managing to save the day in the 24th episode look like a side-punch from out of nowhere, Gordon Brown has named the day. There comes a point in every pirate movie when the lubber on the end of the plank looks back at the cutlasses being waggled at his nethers, decides he might as well take his chances and jumps. This is that point.

And what a day it was. I hope you weren't after a helicopter for anything urgent because most of them were being employed by the news agencies for several hours on end to bring us breaking arial shots of absolutely nothing happening at Buckingham Palace. Every so often it looked like the news editors were simply trying to find an excuse to see if it's really true that the Queen hangs her bras out on the roof to dry. It's not even as if the pictures of Brown's car crawling up the Mall as he tried to find polite ways of asking his driver if he wouldn't mind turning Magic FM down a touch would have been especially useful or illuminating in terms of the story, but they were all up there with their whirlybirds, whacking out a carbon footprint the size of a Nicholas Winterton bellyflop splash pattern.

It's only just beginning of course, but for what is touted as the most exciting and closest election since, ooh, 1992 it was pretty insipid stuff from the party leaders. Big Gord came out flanked by his cabinet in an attempt by the spin machine to dilute his personality. They looked peculiarly like the stilted line-up of a primary school nativity play. It wouldn't have been at all surprising if he'd started up with "And lo! The Angel Gabriel did appear unto the shepherds saying, 'Sorry about all that Foot and Mouth business, I trust I can rely on your support come polling day.'"

David Cameron, looking ever more like the kind of ridiculously smooth public figure who turns out to be in the pay of a massive Earth-coveting alien in 'Doctor Who', stood on the other side of the Thames from Parliament, attempting to look like the plucky outsider. Which is a bit rich. At best it made him look like he'd forgotten his keys and couldn't get into the place, at worst it seemed that he was just trying to minimise the chances of one of his Shadow Cabinet walking by and reminding us all that the Conservative party still does a pretty good line in unlikeable, red-faced snobs. They are a dreadful-looking bunch. For all Brown's actual cabinet's anonymity (go on, could you name over half of the ones standing with him outside Downing Street this morning without having to get your Westminster Top Trumps out?) at least they only look like they might buttonhole you about life insurance. Cameron's lot appear as though they've been pre-caricatured to save the cartoonists time. Good Lord, Michael Gove looks like someone's drawn a cartoon of him being sucked down a plughole.

Nothing much to say in terms of messages from either of them. Big Gord told us that the future was within our grasp, a future "fairer for all." Classic politicianspeak. A brighter tomorrow. How long have they been promising us that? Politics, essentially, is like 'Lost' - they keep telling us there's a solution to everything, but the longer time goes on, the more you get the feeling that they don't really know what it is.

Samcam's husband Dav, meanwhile, referred to "The Great Ignored." Fair play to the lad, he avoided the obviously dangerous Freudian slip of replacing that last word with "Unwashed", although he did keep referring to them as "they", slightly giving off the manner of a posh person discussing cleaners at a dinner party.

Nick Clegg also said stuff, but I've Googled it and I can't find what. So long as it was "Vince Cable, Vince Cable, Vince Cable," he should have some momentum going into May 6th.