The chilling dullness of our politicians

Behind the banality, they subsidise arms dealers and shove wealth and influence to private rail operators
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The Independent Online

I managed to follow the first couple of minutes of the Newsnight interview with Tony Blair. There was something about why he took money from a pornographer, to which he said he was happy to accept a donation from the owner of the Daily Express. And it's true that Richard Desmond owns the Express. He bought it with the money he made from pornography. It's like saying you'd accept donations from the mafia because you've heard they hire out bouncy castles on the side.

But after that I just couldn't concentrate. I found myself drifting into that world that muzak sends you to, it was all so passionless and joyless and predictable. It wouldn't have registered if he'd said: "OK, Jeremy, but look, I've said all along that, you know, I'm a man trapped in a woman's body. But y'know, if we're to reduce street crime in real terms then for goodness sake don't criticise when I meet with police chiefs in a lace bra and suspenders."

This has gone further than the cliché of politicians being boring. Blair increasingly looks bored himself, or like a bad actor who's been told by a director to try and look as if he cares. And they're all like it. Once, for some strange reason, I found myself on the radio with Alistair Darling. So I asked him something or other and off he went in that soulless New Labour-tron way, and after a few seconds I was daydreaming about what it's like to hit a six at the Oval and whether it was still mathematically possible for Crystal Palace to be promoted.

Then he finished and, like an idiot, I tried to respond to his answer when it would have been much better to say: "Do what? Sorry mate I was miles away. I remember something about 23 per cent in real terms then it all went blank."

And this lot were teenagers in the Sixties so you'd think they'd have a bit of spark. Instead they delight in denying they ever had any. You can see this when they're asked if they've ever taken drugs, and the most you'll get is an admission that one of them took half a puff once by accident but was sick so they never did it again. When is one of them going to be honest and say "Did I? I tell you what Jeremy, have you ever done the hot knives through a milk bottle with the bottom cut out. Jesus, I thought my lungs were going to burst. Anyway, back to the rate of inflation."

And when they're asked how they can square the values they once stood by with their New Labour agenda, they squirm that actually, taking sponsorship from McDonald's and supporting George Bush's wars is remaining faithful to the pamphlet they wrote in 1974 called "Bollocks to everything from America" – but in a modern setting. At least with Prescott you get the impression he's itching to say: "Look mate, when I was a socialist I served drinks on a ship. Now I couldn't care less and today I'm having lunch with the Italian Foreign Secretary. And I get to stay in a posh hotel and everything. For free. Waheeey."

But mostly they follow the line and say nothing interesting, so there's almost no point in interviewing them. And a typical interview on the Today programme on Radio 4 just goes: "Minister, are you going to resign?" "No." "You are, aren't you?" "No." "Go on, you are." "No." "Before Monday?" "No." "Thank you very much for joining us, here's Steve with the sport."

So for worthwhile political interviews, find someone with the al-Jazeera Arabic channel. I've watched lengthy arguments on that and the brilliant thing is I haven't the foggiest idea what they're on about. Interviewees row and shout across each other and you pick sides, but for all I know I've plumped for the bloke who's yelling that the Taliban were too soft on women.

At one point someone was ranting with such fluency that he literally couldn't stop, and the poor presenter kept trying to interject with words that clearly meant: "I'm afraid that's all we've got time for, sorry, yes, we must leave it there, it's time for the weather report." But he carried on for several more minutes and presumably the following programme had to be cancelled. Obviously there's a downside to the Middle East, the region being run by a series of brutal dictatorships, but at least their late-night current affairs programmes hold your interest.

If New Labour's crime was just dullness it wouldn't matter too much, but behind the banality they subsidise the arms dealers, back the warmongers and shove wealth and influence to private rail operators and pornographers. Theirs is the chilling suburban dullness of the salesman who comes home from a day dealing in torture equipment, then chats to his neighbour about garden sheds. It's also the suburban types who are keenest on pornography. Maybe that's how Paxman could have caught Blair out, by asking if he was happy to take money from the owner of the Express, to see if Blair gasped: "I'm happy to accept a donation from the publisher of Britain's most excellent pornography. Oh sod."

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