Sunday, 18 April 2010

Did you Hate the Great Debate?

The Gr8 Deb8 was the most boring television show ever. Three white males in identical grey suits standing at lecterns delivering their almost identical opinions on how to disguise the cuts and deny the desperate mess we're in.
There were only one or two entertaining moments and they were both provided by Nick Clegg. One was when he came up with a ridiculous idea about letting immigrants in, but keeping them in one part of the country. Cameron immediately challenged it as unworkable. You cannot be serious! An immigration control at every county boundary?. It gave a glimpse of how truly naive and wet-behind-the-ears the Libdem leader is. The second was when Mr Clegg described how he had walked into a hospital ward in England and was told that though expensively-equipped, it could not be used because they aren't permitted to employ non-EU staff.
What a clanger!
Surely his team had warned him not to mention things like that? The Libdems are supposed to have a blind enthusiasm for EU membership, coupled with a blank denial that Brussels is really ruling this country at all.
The EU is the Elephant Unmentioned and both of the other Gr8 Deb8ers kept to the rule that they were not supposed to refer to know what.
To me, these moments were the only light relief in an evening of utter blandness, but it seems that there are a lot of viewers out there who see it in a very different light. They are swept away with enthusiam for Clegg's "performance", and now he is the hero of the Twittering Facebook pollsters.
To people who think a politician and a telly soap star are the same thing, Clegg clearly has an appeal. They don't care that he has been an MP for only five years, and he has no ministerial experience. Tall, good-looking in a dull way, and younger than either of his rivals, he undoubtedly has the confidence of his wealthy, public-school and Cambridge background. He has a glamorous wife with a highly-paid job.
But wait a minute? Haven't we been here before? Didn't we choose someone just like this in 1997... and for many of the same reasons?

In 1997, we elected a brand new, shiny prime minister, all smiles and optimism, and we trusted him to bring in a new era. Blair was young, handsome and confident. He talked centre-left but he had the social ease and assurance of his affluent, public-school background. He was well-advised, well-packaged, and well-surrounded by public relations advisors. And he had an elegant wife with a successful, highly-paid legal career in her own right.

What happened? We got a decade of nasty, unpopular wars and recurrent scandals in public life. A man was found dead in a woodland - suicide? A decade in which business moguls were left to run the economy, titles were sold to raise election funds for the PM's party and little by little, our freedoms were steadily eroded. An era in which more and more government was done by unelected ministers, and faith in democracy plunged. The golden boy Blair turned out to be a lightweight, incapable of standing up to America or resisting the encroachment of EU tyranny.

What have we learned from that experience? Little or nothing, it seems. A lot of the British public seems ready again to fall for a soap-star leader, an inexperienced lightweight whose main attractions are his style and youthful good looks.
Clegg has no principles and no consistent policies. He has vacillated on everything from Trident to tuition fees. When chosen as Libdem leader, he said he wanted to keep a nuclear deterrent; now he says scrap it (he can't even agree with Vince Cable). A few years ago he was offering to abolish university fees; now he has changed his tune. Not long ago, when the Lisbon Treaty was in the news, he offered a firm, unconditional promise that the Libdems would give Britain a referendum on EU membership. Now he has backed down on that too.
Clearly he is skilled in the art of double-talk and political deception, even though he has no experience in taking responsibility at ministerial level. He blames Labour for getting us into a mess - but he never saw it coming.
I imagine it is mainly the first-time voters who are so easily infatuated with a face, a manner and a well-cut suit. Let's hope that they are all too busy twittering or clubbing or chattering on their mobile phones on May 6th to actually go out and vote.

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