LAST NIGHT

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The Independent Culture
In simple consumer terms, the best offer from the party election broadcasts so far has been the Natural Law Party's pledge to deliver "bubbling bliss for every individual". Simple, straightforward and, what's more, achievable. All we have to do is carpet the country in foam mattresses and pogo our way to paradise like disabled kangaroos.

I had thought nothing would come remotely close to their surreal mating of governmental purpose and transcendental fantasy, but I had reckoned without the Labour party, who on Monday night transmitted an election broadcast of stupefying inanity, involving an angelic taxi-driver who reversed time in order that his disenchanted passenger could vote the Tories out (given that so many people remain nervous that Tony Blair will turn the clock back if he gets into power it seemed mildly perverse to raise this thought in voter's minds, even if it was part of a claim to heavenly endorsement).

All I can say is that I'm glad that you don't have to vote on aesthetic grounds. It may not matter much when you're up against a government as spavined and dogma-racked as the current one, but apart from Molly Dineen's documentary profile of the leader (which seemed to me to convey his untarnished optimism more clearly than any number of "sincere" setpiece speeches), and apart from that effectively stomach-churning evocation of Tory conference triumphalism, the Labour party's broadcasts could not really be said to have earned them victory.

Earlier on the same evening, the devil we know had specifically denied that he possessed supernatural abilities: "I'm a politician - not Mystic Meg," he replied to a scornful question from David Dimbleby about broken promises from the previous general election.

The last of the Panorama leadership interviews finally gave us the chance to compare the performances of the main contenders (and of their sparring partner). And while it was hardly an even contest, given that the last man in the ring had the opportunity to study his opponent's form, it did allow for some general conclusions.

A little of the aggression appeared to have gone out of the interviewer, though it would be hard to say whether this was lack of inner conviction or simply an access of mercy towards a man almost everybody has started to count out. The manner was certainly different; with Blair, Dimbleby adopted the faintly sarcastic tone of a bank manager who has already decided not to approve a loan but is making his client go through the hoops anyway. And his language was less buttoned-up then - as though the man in front of him did not yet warrant the same degree of decorum as an elected prime minister ("I don't count the spending on education - which is peanuts", "This is rhetoric, isn't it? This is an example of just ... blather.") With Major, the style was rather more deferential (I suspect a statistical analysis would confirm the rough impression that there were fewer interruptions) and the aggression somehow less heartfelt.

Major helped his own case by his body language - leaning forward over the desk where Blair had mostly sat back, with his hands folded on his lap, an oddly submissive posture.

It was also a demonstration of how having a record to stand on confers an advantage, however tattered and dismal that record might be. Blair was forced to talk mainly about the future, and could advance little in evidence but his good intentions - how do you prove that what you might do in a year's time will work?

Major, on the other hand, could dispute the interpretation of events that have already taken place, an opportunity he pursued with breathtaking nerve. Every failure of leadership and every humiliating reversal was refigured as a noble act of principle. Even his inability to shame the party's more flagrant spivs into standing down was turned into a defence of the immemorial principles of British justice (don't own up until they've caught you red-handed). If I hadn't been told that the angels were on Labour's side I would have sworn that I could see wingtips poking above those grey shoulders.

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