A half-truth

According to The Daily Telegraph – I didn’t see David Cameron’s conference speech at the Conservative conference, having deprived myself cheerfully of TV for a week – he said, of the fiasco over MPs’ expenses claims, that ‘We are just starting the job of building the new politics we need. Because the anger over expenses reflected something deeper.’

Nay, thrice nay, as Frankie Howerd used to say. Let’s dismantle those two sentences. In the first one, the phrase ‘the new politics’ occurs. Like the phrase ‘New Labour’, or indeed ‘Liberal Democrat’, this is just verbiage. It doesn’t mean anything. It is a platitude. It is a hackneyed phrase. Nobody is interested in ‘new politics’. The only person who could possibly utter the phrase ‘new politics’ is an old-style politician. 

The words ‘job’ and ‘building’ are the standard bricks used to construct any conference speech. Give us the tools and we will finish… the job. To ensure the future that is to come, we must… build (copyright, Peter Sellers). The phrase ‘We are just starting’ is intended to mimic the ‘newness’ of the Conservatives, a newness that is as old as the hillbillies. Every aspiring politician says he is starting something. It is a given, and it is also untrue: the politician is not starting anything. He is continuing something, in the hope that it may seem a little different. All change is only loose change, when politicians refer to it.

The second, verbless sentence – Blair really does have a lot to answer for, in the legacy to Cameron of abstinence in the business of doing-words, as we used to call them – is a very cunning sentence indeed. It deflects the irritation of the people by referring to it as an abstraction, ‘the anger’. It also cunningly distances Cameron personally, and the Conservatives generally, from the expense-claim absurdities.  It does this not only by talking about it it in the abstract, with a dignified ‘the’, but by suggesting that it ‘reflected something deeper’. Very clever rhetoric. ‘The’ anger is about ‘something deeper’, i.e. not really about the expenses at all. Very carefully, Cameron and his speechwriters have wafted the bad smell of the expenses farrago away, by saying that they detect in it something more fundamental (if that’s the word). The speech allies itself with this deepness.

The expenses scandal annoyed people because politicians were ripping them off, stealing their money, and buying trinkets on tick, tick to which they had been given access by themselves. It was a bit about theft, and a bit about lying. It was about nothing else. It wasn’t about ‘the new politics’. People on the fabled doorstop were not saying, ‘Very deep, this. I think we need a new constitutional understanding, and a new relationship with our MPs’. They were saying, ‘You scumbags.’

In the same issue – this is my feeble attempt at ‘balance’ – we have reported to us that Ben Bradshaw (Labour minister) has been claining that there is pro-Tory bias on the BBC radio flagship programme, ‘Today’. Ben B. (perfectly charming bloke when you meet him) has issued this on Twitter. He needs to remember that this business about the bias of journalists was a speciality of Norman Tebbit’s (and still is). Politicians who complain about journalists are scraping the barrel, they really are.  

I really hate the conference season. Gordon Brown’s wife says he is her hero. David Cameron says he owes everything to his wife. Please stop it. Issue the audiences with onions instead.


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