Mark Steel: It's almost heartbreaking – these people are so clueless

You can imagine Ed Balls crying out: ‘Let’s get Harriet on Britain’s Got Talent
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The Independent Online

The leaders of the Labour Party have reached a fascinating stage, where they hate each other but don't know why, and aren't allowed to criticise each other, and if they do they have to assure everyone that: "When I said he's arsed everything up like the steaming Scottish cowpat he is, this was in no sense meant as a criticism, but as a contribution to the wider debate of how we move Britain forward with the forwardness the British people look forward to."

And this is while they look so hopeless you can imagine a researcher running to Gordon Brown and saying "There's excellent news on the public reaction to our health message. We're now only 3 per cent behind swine flu in the polls."

If a Labour leader's marriage is falling apart, he must say to his wife: "I continue to have every confidence in you as the right person to lead us through the challenges ahead. Furthermore, the Philippino hooker you caught me with in the shower has no ambitions to replace you, and is delighted to remain in her current post for the foreseeable future."

They're almost heartbreakingly clueless as to why they're in trouble. Hazel Blears described the problem as the need for politicians to "re-engage" with voters, as if they just have to find new ways of getting their message across. But that's the thinking that led to the genius of Brown on You-Tube. You can imagine cabinet meetings where Ed Balls calls out: "I know, let's get Harriet Harman to go on Britain's Got Talent, and perform the figures on reduced NHS waiting lists expressed as a piece of hip-hop dance."

Labour's problem is that people ARE engaged with them, and they've decided they don't like them, because their message HAS come across. The cabinet can't honestly think: "People WOULD vote for us, if only they were aware that we sent the country into war on a pack of lies, insisted there was no more boom or bust, fiddled second homes and let bankers rob the place."

Part of their difficulty can be found in the nature of their arguments. They can't describe clearly the reasons they disagree, because they don't actually believe in anything. In the lamented Old Labour Party, leaders disagreed about nuclear weapons or nationalisation, but New Labour arguments are about petty personal squabbles as if they're teenage girls. These articles in Sunday newspapers should go: "Asked for his opinion of the current cabinet, one senior minister said 'Alistair Darling! Like, get real. Fiscal this, fiscal that, dur dur. I'm like SO going to get his job off his sorry grey ass'."

Inspired by Blair, they think everything revolves around presentation while the reality doesn't matter. It's as if a builder had a discussion with you that went: "I have to accept that the bond between us has been fractured in these difficult times, which is why I'd like this opportunity to reflect on the many positive aspects of our work."

"You blew up my house."

"Yes, and this was an unpopular policy, and I recognise it as such. But I'm sure that when the time comes, you'll decide that I am the builder best qualified to lead you out of the rubble."

Even on the fiasco of trying to stop Gurkhas having the right to settle here, the criticism from Hazel Blears was that it came over badly, and the cabinet will probably conclude it's worth two points in the polls to always do the same as Joanna Lumley. Now, for a laugh, Joanna Lumley should make an announcement every week such as "I think there should be more yellow insects", and within half an hour the Home Office would have workmen in every borough spraying ant-hills with custard.

But not one of these Labour leaders has made the obvious point by saying: "What the hell were we doing denying soldiers who'd fought for Britain the right to live here, to the extent that we've managed to make ourselves open to attack as too heartless on immigration by the bloody Tories – aaaaaaaaaaagh!!!!!"

If the current cabinet was asked for its criticisms of the Third Reich, they'd say: "The invasion of Russia should have been presented as part of a wider package of reforms, and the dislocation this mishandled opportunity created between the Government and its core support reversed the popularity it had gained in middle-class Europe following its strategy of firm but necessary labour laws."

So there's no point in a leadership election at all. As all the candidates could sum up their position as: "Under me, the party will be taken in a new direction, in which we do exactly the same shit but excuse it with more plausible lies."