Alistair Beaton: How many ministers can Balance? on the head of a pin?

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The Independent Online

The Transport Secretary has a new mantra. It seems to be something to do with balance. All week he's been telling people that he just wanted to "get the balance right", or "strike the right balance", or "achieve the proper balance". This sounded pretty good to me, until I found out he was referring to the balance between the needs of the environment and the need to expand air travel by 300 per cent.

I didn't really understand how such a balance was possible, so I sought help from Professor Anthony Brightboy, the well-known new Labour theoretician recently elevated to the easyJet Chair of Politics and Obfuscation at the University of South Luton.

"What does balance actually mean?" I asked the professor.

"Well," said Professor Brightboy, "the first thing to understand is that balance in this context is an original concept developed and marketed exclusively by New Labour."

"Oh," I said, puzzled. "I thought the idea of balance had been around for hundreds of years?"

Professor Brightboy gave me a pitying smile. "You're thinking of balance. But what I'm talking about here is ..." At this point he leapt up, crossed to a flipchart in the corner of the room, and picked up a fat felt-tip pen. "What I'm talking about here is Balance™," he said, writing it on the Flipchart in big red letters.

"And what's the difference between Balance™ and, you know, common or garden balance?"

"Well, obviously, Balance™ is a New Labour product with a registered trademark and so a royalty has to be paid every time you use it."

"What, even if I'm not a Labour party supporter?"

"Supporters of other parties may alternatively make a donation to the Geoff

Hoon Early Retirement Fund."

"I certainly would have no objection to doing that," I said, "but it still doesn't help me to tell the difference between balance and Balance™."

"It's ever so easy," Professor Brightboy replied. "With the old, non-branded concept of balance, you had to go through the tiresome business of looking at both sides of an argument. Balance™ doesn't have that problem."

"What about Iraq?" I asked.

"Did we get the right Balance™

there or the right balance?"

"Oh, no doubt about that one," said the professor. "When President Bush wanted our support in the war on terror, we had to choose between invading Iraq and not invading Iraq, so we struck the right Balance™ and invaded Iraq."

At that point I suggested that the invasion of Iraq had resulted in a huge increase in terrorist attacks all over the globe, and it might conceivably be argued that we got the Balance™ wrong.

"No, no, no," said the professor vehemently. "That would be completely erroneous. We got the balance wrong, but we got the Balance™ right. To make the point clear, he wrote it out on his flipchart in a form I might understand:

Iraq War + balance = Cockup.

Iraq War + Balance™ = Success.

I must still have looked a bit confused, because the professor sighed and shook his head. Obviously I was not one of his brighter students. "Let me give you another example," he suggested.

"Yes, please," I said.

"Let's take the reform of the House of Lords. Here the debate has focused on whether a reformed House of Lords should be appointed or elected. If you wanted to achieve a sensible balance, you know, a bit of democracy but not too much, then you would have some peers elected and some appointed. But with a sensible Balance™, the whole lot can be appointed. It's that simple."

As I left the professor's study he suggested I take a look at a new government website called www.blairsmiddle where all aspects of government policy are explained by the Prime Minister in simple, accessible language. As soon as I was back in my office, I took his advice and logged on. One of the options offered on the home page was "Reverse gear", so I clicked on that. Up came the message: "Error - this page not available".

Alistair Beaton wrote the hit comedy 'Feelgood'. His new play 'Follow My Leader' opens in March