Well, I wish some of those Labour lads had ditched the PPE for English literature. (To be fair, Andy Burnham did, and he's a lovely boy, with lovely ideas for Labour, and very pleasing on the eye, but since he can't even get his website to move at anything other than a snail's pace, one assumes his chances of running the United Kingdom aren't terribly high.)
If they had, then maybe we might have speeches in a language we vaguely recognised.
Instead, we have soundbites about "democratic deficit" and "moral economy" and "innovation" and, of course, "narrative" and something called a "New Labour comfort zone", which must have been that funny area between the play zone and the talk zone in that great New Labour white elephant, the Millennium Dome. And, of course, we have a lot of "change". The change necessary for a party "with eyes firmly fixed on change for our country"; the change to "put power, wealth and opportunity into the hands of the many"; the "change Britain needs" in "the Britain we have to build". Which will, apparently, be built on a foundation of short, verbless and highly staccato sentences.
Of the "extraordinarily positive features" that have, according to the elder Miliband, come out of the leadership contest, the most important (presumably, because he names it first) is "packed hustings". Tragically, I've missed them, but I've made attempts to rectify what he would, no doubt, call a hustings attendance deficit by looking at the candidates' websites.
Burnham's, when it eventually popped up on my screen, started off with the text invisible in what looked like a pool of blood, which may well, given his background (Eng Lit, I mean, not very, very 'umble) have been a metaphor for something. Diane Abbott's, which appeared to consist largely of a huge face shouting, was packed with incisive nuggets like: "Diane has congratulated David Cameron on the birth of his fourth child. Diane said today: 'I'd like to pass on my warmest congratulations to David Cameron and his wife Samantha on the birth of their fourth child. I wish them all the very best for the future.'"
At least Ed Balls's had a bit of energy. "Fight for fairness," it screams, and when you see the photo next to it, you think you'd probably rather not. And it is only fair to acknowledge that feisty Ed has been fighting every step of the way: fighting Michael Gove's school building botch-up, fighting the Government's claims of Budgetary fairness, fighting the Cleggite mantra of being "progressive". (Though the day a politician realised that most people think "progressive" is a term applied to a nasty disease might be a good one for the English language, if not for what a Miliball might call "political discourse".) Balls has fought as if the stakes are high. Which they are, but not, alas, for him.
But the Miliboys'. Oh dear, the Miliboys'. I was literally chewing my lip with embarrassment when I watched David's campaign video, which, over footage of him shaking hands with a variety of "ordinary" people from different ethnic backgrounds (and, casually dropped in the middle, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton) had him saying words like "passionate", "engaged", "thoughtful", "listening" and (worst of all) "Next Labour". Words. Without. Any. Context.
Ed's was even worse. It begins with a woman in a stripy T-shirt called Polly saying, in effect, that she and Ed had had a nice chat and decided it would be a great idea if he became Prime Minister. Ed then talks of "harnessing" the commitment, energy and (of course) "passion" of volunteers in a voice that seems suddenly to have developed that Antipodean rising inflection that was, at one point, so irritatingly ubiquitous, but which had, I thought (perhaps thanks to Balls) been fairly successfully crushed. And then there's a montage of young people all saying where they're from. The chief message, as far as I could tell, was that there's no space in "Next Labour" for anyone over the age of 35.
Many years ago, a colleague who knew how much I savoured my snacks cut out part of the cardboard packaging of a sandwich and placed it on my desk. It said "passionate about food". It was from Pret a Manger. At the time, we both thought it was hilarious that a sandwich shop had a "mission statement". We thought it was even funnier that someone thought passion was something you had to spell out. I don't, I'm afraid, think it's nearly so funny now.
As an English graduate, who, in his time as Culture Secretary, gave some very nice speeches about poetry, Andy Burnham will know about the Martian poets. David Miliband (whose favourite book is The Gruffalo) and his brother (whose favourite book varies according to his audience) may not. The Martians were a group of poets who tried to make the familiar strange by imagining what a Martian would make of it. God only knows what they'd have made of these hustings, these websites, these mission statements. And God only knows what they'd have made of a system which requires a potential Labour leader to pretend to be the spiritual scion of Arthur Scargill in order to be elected by their party, and the spiritual scion of Margaret Thatcher in order to become prime minister.
Presentation matters. As the current Government is teaching us, it really, really matters. I'm sorry to say – I'm really very sorry to say – but I think Labour might be out of power for quite some time.
Mind your language (if you're an MP)
On wednesday night, Newsnight got a special dispensation from God (or someone who earns a lot more than Him) to broadcast some very bad swear words indeed. This was not in order to preview a new series of The Wire, or to screen interviews with junkies desperate for their next fix, but to re-enact the conversations of some MPs. The comments, which were read by actors in ludicrously plummy voices (presumably to enhance the shock value), were extracted from encounters between MPs and their new expenses watchdog, Ipsa. The MPs were cross. They used words that began with an "f" and ended in a "k". Which, clearly, wasn't nice.
But the officials at Ipsa must be very delicate flowers if they think that a few swear words (very largely not directed at them, but at a system which is driving many MPs to something like psychosis) need to be released to the nation, as these were, in the interests of "Freedom of Information". My hunch is that anyone who hasn't spent their life locked in an Austrian cellar might just about have gathered that people who are frustrated – and many who aren't – tend to use what a Government minister would call "robust" language. And wouldn't necessarily collapse with shock when they did.
One MP apparently said that she was "going to murder someone today". Ipsa hasn't revealed whether or not it phoned Scotland Yard, but it might consider teaching some of its staff that the English language is full of idioms, not all of which are to be taken literally. Alternatively, it might suggest that they spend a day on a newspaper.
Can the Pentagon really be blamed?
WikiLeakds founder Julian Assange is a strange creature. It's not just the peculiar air he exudes of someone who has spent his entire life locked in a room with a computer which has somehow sucked the life, and colour, out of him. It's not even the fact that he has, as the founder of a website which exists to put classified documents in the public sphere, chosen to live as a nomad, rarely spending more than a few days in one place. It's his alarming propensity to self-aggrandisement.
The Swedish sex abuse charges which surfaced last week (filed, withdrawn and now downgraded to "molestation") seem to have been a bit of a dog's dinner, but the central issue appears to be the usage, or rather non-usage, of a condom. Assange has said that he has never had sex that wasn't "consensual", but he certainly wouldn't be the first man whose enthusiasm, at a certain point, has a tendency to overcome his sensitivity to his partner's requests. It's clearly embarrassing, and, if he's found guilty, much more than embarrassing. But to blame it all on the Pentagon, or the CIA, does seem just a little bit far-fetched.Reuse content