28 April 2010
In the midst of a week-long hiatus since the last instalment ended, the tension becomes almost intolerable. So thank the Lord the denouement on BBC1 is almost upon us. I refer, of course, to the Doctor Who double header ending on Saturday. For those who missed the first part, the Doctor once again faces the Weeping Angels, a curious species with the best self-defence mechanism known to Creation. So long as you’re looking at them, they are “quantum locked” as stone statues, and cannot harm or be harmed. But take your eyes off them for a nanosecond, and they come to life, attack at staggering speed, and send the victim into the distant past with the faintest touch. “Don’t look away, don’t turn around, don’t even blink,” as David Tennant warned a few years ago when they made their debut. “Blink and you’re dead. Good luck.”
The splendid news, with Saturday in mind, is that Tennant’s replacement is Matt Smith and not Ed Balls. As the Doctor, the Schools Secretary wouldn’t stand a prayer against the Angels because he never stops blinking, which must go some way to explaining his nickname of Blinky.
On reflection, I may have slipped back in time myself, if only by a few days, because on Monday’s Newsnight Blinky Balls barely blinked at all. No doubt he noticed the line, in a newspaper piece about him, that wakeful rapid eye movement is the body language for “pathological liar”. Were confirmation needed that his leadership campaign has begun, this formidable act of will supplied it. He is already manoeuvring to ensure that, if and when Gordon Brown is fatally wounded by the electorate, the leader will regenerate into Blinky.
And somehow it remains if. This pesky inter-debate stasis has seen the polls coalesce remarkably, with eminently bridgeable three-point gaps established between the Tories (33 per cent) Liberal Democrats (30) and Labour (you do the maths). An economic tour de force from Gordon tomorrow – yeah, yeah, but with this crazy election who knows – may just give him a squeak of surviving.
Yet the odds against remain so long that Mr Balls felt emboldened to fire an anti-coalition warning shot across the bows of David Miliband and Alan Johnson during a Newsnight appearance of preternatural if wide-eyed ineptitude. Time and again Jeremy Paxman invited him down to Earth to join the rest of us in discussing the implications of a hung parliament. Time and again Mr Balls, as reactionary on this issue as even the Murdochracy, trotted out the idiocy du jour that he would consent only to discuss the important issues. As if the imminent governance of Britain were a fatuous sideshow.
If the intention was to supplant Michael Howard as Guinness record-holder for Most Humiliatingly Prevaricative Paxo Stuffing it was a close thing. If he wished to demonstrate why his leadership would kill Labour as an electoral force for 15 years, if not for ever, there he unquestionably succeeded.
Cocky, fake, slimy, inelegant, ineloquent, charmless, witless, weird, sinister, glacially cold and luminescently remote, he may be the most chillingly repulsive politician of even this golden generation. If Pixar set out to create a CGI character to embody everything the public has learned to despise about its political class, they’d be thrilled to come up with this lizardy schemer, who may have slipped through a tear in the fabric of space-time himself. Certainly he seems best suited to skulking beneath stone archways, in a purple robe, sibilantly sidling poison into the bloodstream of the medieval Vatican.
For a decade and more, this greyest of eminences has stirred, fixed, briefed and bullied, first to remove Mr Tony Blair; and latterly in the cause – keeping his master in power – that has pushed his party to the edge of the abyss. If he has a political philosophy, it is the domineering, top-down, we-know-best, infantilising statism of Gordon himself, but it’s not really about that. For Mr Balls, it is football thug tribalism – a with-us-or-against-us Manichean sensibility next to which Mrs Thatcher seems a proto-Cleggian champion of consensus.
The tribe, small as it may be, is incredibly dangerous for Labour. Leading the provisional wing is Charlie Whelan, who we’re told is fixing the chieftainship by using Unite’s money and influence to fill safe Labour seats with Blinkyite loyalists (or at worst pliable yeopeople). The propaganda operation is devolved to the amusingly slavish Daily Mirror, while in some subterranean grotto that enchanting smearmeister Damian McBride is said to be stealthily continuing the noble work that brought him to public attention.
If this gruesome cabal hardly strikes you as the A-Team, do not underestimate its power. With Labour traumatised by crushing rejection, they would mobilise on 7 May. Day after day the Mirror would run the Milibanana snap while rubbishing Mr Johnson as Alan Nice-But-Unutterably-Dim and Harriet Harman as a deranged old shrew. Spiteful false rumours about Blinky’s rivals will seep through the blogosphere and Twitterati as Mr Balls postured as the great uniter while his Unite trolls execute his plan to divide and conquer.
It will require every ounce of Peter Mandelson’s will and cunning to frustrate a show of brutal, machine power politics to turn the least delicate of stomachs, and at just the time Labour would need to be Milk of Magnesia to a bilious electorate on the off-chance of a quick second election. Using the core vote as a Maginot Line, as Mr Balls would instinctively do, would produce a catastrophe more epochal by far than the one under Michael Foot in 1983.
The alternative, far preferable in offering hope of recovery though it is, isn’t so peachy either. If Mr Balls thinks he is losing – and assuming that he manages to keep hold of his seat in Yorkshire, which is far from certain – he will threaten his rivals with a Samson Option civil war, because that is his nature. Fight us if you must, will be the message, but know that if we win we will destroy you, and if we lose we will bring the temple down to destroy you at the cost of destroying ourselves. It’s the same threat that he and his compadres used to quell at least one Cabinet putsch, and if the Miliband and Johnson livers are as lilyish as ever, it might well work again.
If Labour finishes where the polls put it today, we are in for a staring contest doubling up as a game of ultra-high stakes bluff. To survive as an electable force, alone or as partner in an anti-Tory alliance, it is essential that Mr Balls reverts to form and blinks first. Labour’s progressive forces must watch this Weeping Angel like hawks on the all-carrot diet. Take their eyes off him for a second, and he will send the party back almost 30 years to the internecine nightmare that so nearly obliterated it then.
Mandy hardly needs this advice, because he’ll have worked it out a year ago, but some of his colleagues perhaps may. Don’t look away, don’t turn around, don’t even blink. Blink and you’re dead. Good luck.
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