An interview with the Minister - erm, Secretary of...

`Why d'you think Frank Field had to go? He kept on saying what he thought - hopeless!'
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The Independent Culture
"GOOD MORNING and, following the recent Government reshuffle, we welcome to the studio this morning, the new minister for -"

"Secretary of State, actually."

"Of course. And I'm sure our listeners will have understood what I meant."

"Maybe, maybe not. But, as we've repeatedly said since we came into power, this Government stands for telling people precisely where they stand - for thinking the unthinkable, saying the unsayable and, yes, when necessary, for feasing the unfeasible. And, you know, I'm pretty sure that listeners to this radio programme, whether they be in the newly revived inner-city heartlands of booming Britain, or the rolling countryside that looks so beautiful at this time of the year, or the newly devolved countries of Scotland and Wales - and, my goodness, aren't they doing well? - or my own lovely constituency of -"

"But what many of these people will be asking is, do we need a Secretary of State for Obfuscation."

"Are they? Are you sure about that? I mean, we all know where this programme is coming from, with its snide, metropolitan, smarty-pants interviewers who like nothing better than to put a negative gloss on what the Government has been doing."

"What exactly has that to do with appointing a member of the Cabinet specifically to - ?"

"Excuse me, you asked me a question. You really must allow me to finish. The reason why the Government is placing an unprecedented new emphasis on obfuscatory affairs is that, time and time again in the past, ministers have come into the studio, half-awake, and have been tricked into saying something of substance. Then the whole machinery of Government has to creak into action, denials have to be issued - it's all a colossal waste of time and money. As from today, when someone needs to step forward, sound reassuring but say absolutely nothing, I will be here."

"On the face of it, that sounds a rather simple job."

"Actually, it takes a lot of skill to find out how long the interview is supposed to last, take a deep breath, waffle away about this and that, taking care never to come to the end of a sentence that might allow the interviewer the time to ask an awkward question, maybe lifting a few paragraphs from a speech given last week about the economy, or waiting lists or the really remarkable progress David Blunkett has been making in education, where children are not only brighter than they were under the Tory Government but, d'you know, happier too, you can see it in the smiles on their little faces when they are on their way to their bright, rebuilt schools -"

"But -"

"Then you have to be able to bore listeners into submission with meaningless statistics - and, as you know, there has been an astonishing rise of 37 million cubic centimetres of hot air in the borough of Westminster in the past two years, the equivalent to the total 1998 flatulence output of termites in Uganda -"

"Surely, with all that hot air, you will just be adding to it."

"I really must ask you to let me finish. Now, some ministers can do this. George Robertson can talk for hours without saying anything. But others are a complete disaster. Why d'you think Frank Field had to go? He kept on saying what he thought - hopeless!"

"Of course, your predecessors were very competent obfuscators too. Ken Clarke, Willie Whitelaw - masters of empty bluster."

"Well, that's the kind of question that you'll need to put to my colleague, the Minister for Blaming the Previous Administration."

"So this reshuffle has produced new cabinet posts for Obfuscation, for Blaming the Previous Administration, for Empty Rhetoric about Conviction Politics, for Traditional Labour Values -"

"Yes, bit of a poisoned chalice, that, between you and me."

"At first glance, it all looks a bit superficial."

"Superficial? You know, you really ought to get out more and talk to ordinary people. The fact is that voters don't want policies - they're messy and expensive and, more often than not, go completely wrong. No, the average Briton is interested in the way we present ourselves - whether Tony's looking tired, Clare Short and her newly discovered son, whether John Prescott is talking to his dad. People expect obfuscation so, whatever our critics in the media may say, we're going to give it to them."

"Is that a policy statement?"

"Yes. I mean, no. Look, I've only just started this job. I haven't quite mastered the brief yet."

Miles Kington is on holiday