Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Facing Them Down: head-on or roundabout?

Two weeks, two political party conferences, two leaders' speeches. The Liberals’ watery tax and loose end waffling and wandering left it to Labour to raise the bar by standing still and speaking the common sense of our age.

A week ago, Nick Clegg, already lacking gravitas, had abandoned the dignity of the lectern to waltz the podium. If you think it didn’t look absurd that’s down, quite literally, to media spin – the pan and tilt of the camera, hovering over him, always close enough so we can’t quite see the edge of the stage and that he’s got nowhere to go. Watching on TV we could entertain the idea that he might be moving toward something instead of plodding aimlessly, an illusion his speech mirrored rather less effectively.

To get an idea of how much of this is for the camera’s benefit (short of actually going to one of these things), picture it stripped down: no big screen backdrop, no mood lighting; a small stage in a dark room in a village school. In fact, imagine your own last school assembly. The headmaster is wishing a fond farewell after your GCSEs and best of luck to you in the big old world out there.

Now imagine him doing that while turning in circles looking like he’s dropped his keys. Do you think, “Wow! The talk and the walk! He’s got my vote”, or, “Always seemed like a nice chap, but why’s he prancing about like that?”

Watching Gordon Brown is quite different and it occurs to me that headmaster isn’t quite the right metaphor for the new breed of downstage ramblers. For Brown, maybe. But for all these young lads who can’t stand still, head boy is more like it. And with D. Miliband even that’s a stretch. He’s not a wanderer; he’s a fidget. That wide-eyed wonder, that naive arrogance, the clumsily presumptuous political manoeuvring of the most childlike forty-odd-year-old in politics make him a third former. A geeky one. Perhaps he’s the ‘Harry Potter’ Brown was referring to and that odd jokey bit was sending a message to his heir apparent. The “no time for a novice” bit surely was: that the sorcerer’s Blairite apprentice should keep his flapping Mickey Mouse ears to the ground and his bootlicking mouth shut.

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