Matthew Norman: The least inspiring contest ever

You have to praise the lads, at this particular moment in the publishing cycle, for doing what they can to deflect accusations that the party is riven by babyish in-fighting
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The Independent Online

The vuvuzelas have fallen silent yet the plasticy monotone goes endlessly on, its constancy inuring you to the whine until the decibel level fractionally changes and you can't help but be driven mad by it again. Will this apology for a Labour leadership campaign never cease? For two months it's supplied the irritating background drone to the coalition action on the pitch, and still it has two months to run, or crawl, or limp, or waddle towards a conclusion that long ago came to feel stiflingly irrelevant.

If either main party has ever held a weaker contest of the kind, I'd be grateful for the citation. That whoever leads the opposition has little hope of winning the next election is apparent. David Cameron's startlingly quick and imperious mastery of his job, allied to widespread public acceptance that brutal spending cuts are unavoidable, leaves little doubt about that. The language of the Labour candidates suggests they know it themselves, and that the winner's choice of role model will be between Neil Kinnock or Michael Foot.

But that isn't the core problem. In 1997 it was incalculably more obvious that whoever succeeded John Major hadn't a prayer of overturning Mr Tony Blair's colossal majority in one go. Yet that contest seemed relevant and important, and offered its shards of hilarity... Michael Howard being the first eliminated, for example, and the surreal 11th-hour non-aggression pact between Ken Clarke and John Redwood. This time, no one but the Labour Party hypernerd and a few party pris hacks is taking the blindest bit of notice, because – with the exception of Diane Abbott, the Redwoodian no-hoper of the quintet and much the most engaging for that – the candidates have half the public appeal of a viral meningitis victim on a plane.

The Jabulani of the piece is Ed Balls. You can't control him, and you can shoot him as often as you like but you can't keep him down. No finer testament to the inadequacy of this field can there be than that Blinky Balls, by a country mile the most viscerally repulsive politician of his generation, who is emerging as the best of them. Or at least he was when cast to type as the Nigel De Jong of shadow ministers, kung fu-kicking Michael Gove in the chest over his unfortunate accident regarding school-building programmes.

And then, yesterday, Blinky went on the Today programme to remind us why a victory for him doubles as the very wettest of coalition dreams. Once John Humphrys moved to the question, not unpredictable in the light of a certain memoir, of his loyalty to Tony Blair, he made no effort to keep the petulance from his voice.

All he needed to say was: "Look, things happen in the heat of government none of us are proud of, but that's all history now, blah blah, let's move on." Instead, he became increasingly cross, ending the interview by muttering something petulant into an open microphone... "waste of time that was", possibly, or something about a stitch up. What did he think Humpo would ask him? "Shadow minister, is there anything you wish to add about Labour's 13 glorious years, and the marvellous state of the nation you bequeathed to Mr Cameron?" How can somebody so clever, you wondered, be so fantastically stupid? And then you remembered his master storming out of conference interviews and giving his thoughts about Mrs Duffy with a live microphone still attached to lapel. The prospect of another four years of that must thrill the Labour electorate to bits.

In the meantime, the Milibandroids squeak on and on about "values" at the incomprehensible number of hustings (who goes to these things? Do people get paid to attend like professional mourners?). They're like a pair of C-3POs diverted from the fight against the Death Star, and re-routed to Earth on a secret mission to bore the annual Fabian Slumberfest to death. David tweets away about yet another "fantastic" meeting in which yet more electrifying new ideas surfaced, though what they might be you'd need a PhD in New Labour Management Speak Gibberish to have the first clue.

Meanwhile, playing little Niles Crane to his elder brother's more sonorous, self-important Frasier, Ed keeps referring in interviews to their mother, as though his claim to the leadership is predicated on mummy loving him the most. Fans of the over-extended and increasingly confused World Cup-Labour leadership analogy may recall how Bobby and Jackie Charlton fell out long ago over their mother Cissie. So encouraging signs for the coming Milifeud there.

And so to the gang's Aunt Sally, Andy Burnham, whose impossibly long lashes and doe-eyed stare (I'm sure he wears mascara) bring to mind Una Stubbs as the love interest of Worzel Gummidge (and frankly Michael Foot made a better leader than any of this lot will). The scouser's platform seems built solely on being born and raised in the North, though he tries to season this thin gruel with some John Lennon-esque faux working-class heroism as well. Imagine if he won. It isn't easy if you try, and you needn't bother because he won't, despite the masterstroke of basing his campaign in Manchester, even if he continues down Professional Northerner Avenue by turning up at the next hustings with a whippet and a pair of racing pigeons, and substitutes another of his heart-rending attempts at hinting at a political philosophy with 11 renditions of "In My Liverpool Home".

Fair's fair, though. You have to praise the lads, at this particular moment in the publishing cycle, for doing what they can to deflect accusations that their party is riven by babyish in-fighting. So cloth caps off to Sally for accusing Blinky's mob of briefing that she was poised to drop out of this "race" through lack of support; a charge the featherweight apparatchik made with all the wounded moral authority of someone whose cabinet career will be remembered only for him spreading false rumours about Shami Chakrabati and David Davis. This is the sort of altered decibel level I was on about. It drives you crazy, reacquainting you with that hideous background whine just as you'd finally stopped noticing it.

I was going to dredge up the cliché of four bald men fighting over a comb, but that doesn't begin to do this indescribably dull election justice. What we are trying our best to ignore is the spectre of four eunuchs fighting over a condom – and one that is already visibly split.