Armando Iannucci: The Duffy affair turned the media into a pack of shrieking gibbons

Brown's gaffe shed a light on what the media machine can do when it's taken too much Red Bull

Tuesday 04 May 2010 00:00 BST

Every election has its FFS moment. That's the point when normal politics is disrupted by an event so stupid it makes me swear at the telly a lot. The FFS moment is usually something that's got nothing to do with the issues and everything to do with the media being so bored that they suddenly get very very excited indeed over something like Labour's Party Political Broadcast about Jennifer's ear in 1992 (remember that?) or John Prescott thumping someone for having the audacity to wear a mullet in 2002. These moments when they happen are often described as the "defining" moment of the campaign, generate a lot of headlines and then go on to have no influence on the eventual outcome whatsoever.

I thought this election was going to be different. The seriousness of the financial meltdown that is its background noise, coupled with the dominant and obviously historic position of the live televised debates within it, seemed to be enough to feed the media beast. The closeness in the polls, and Clegg's sudden rise to the role of Kingmaker Apparent (remember that?) was all the excitement we needed.

Then came Gordon Brown's Gillian Duffy moment, and suddenly all bets were off; history was being made, a gargantuan chapter in Britain's story was being written – and every journalist worth his or her salt was being rushed to Rochdale with a live satellite feed and enough throat lozenges to keep them shouting all through the night on live television.

As the gleeful camera pointed live at Mrs Duffy's door while the PM held his economic summit with her, I slumped down in despair at the biggest FFS moment of the past 20 years. Once again, all those questions we need answering but which have never been answered, culminating in the One Big Question – "What The Hell Are You All Going To Cut?" – were thrown away and ignored as the Fourth Estate hopped about like dyspeptic monkeys gleefully reporting the non-existent facts as they unfolded.

As someone who, in The Thick of It, has contrived several silly political moments like these, I appeared to be on a few insiders' contact lists, but there was something rather childish about the mobful of exultant voicemail messages left by hyper-ventilating journalists on my mobile, as BBC news programmes, daily newspapers, and Sky journos asked me to "do" a quick response to these events.

The journalist from Sky News was in some kind of hysterical state of tumescence as he cackled "Gordon Brown's done a gaffe and we wondered if you'd come on to respond. You've got to see it!" on my answering service, and I'm sorry I deleted it rather than release it in to the public domain. The BBC was no less sensationalist in its pokey recording of Brown sitting listening to his own surreptitiously recorded voice played back to him.

It's at these moments that you stand back and see, not a nation debating its future, but a pack of shrieking gibbons.

Thankfully, though, Bigotgate seems to have had no impact on the polls. This has restored my faith in this election as a sober, sincere and considered affair, though it's shed a light on what the media machine can do when it's taken too much Red Bull. But the electorate has come out of it beaming with integrity. I know at the end of each debate, politicians tend to say "The real winner tonight is the British public". Taken to its logical conclusion this means the British public won all three debates, which probably qualifies us for Europe where we take on the French public in the final. But, joking aside, I can't help feeling that's been true in the end, and that the public has played a blinder this election.

We asked big questions, we got annoyed they weren't being answered, we allowed another guy to have his say and thought he was decent enough to be given serious consideration, we said we didn't like negative campaigning and made sure it stopped, we roared with mockery when old-fashioned sleazy headlines were brought out on the nation's front pages, and we quite simply refused to be bought with easy promises, fancy slogans or cheap bribes. If the public were up for election this time round, I'd vote for them, and that's not necessarily something I would have felt like doing in the past.

After all that, it's probably ungainly and possibly a bit rude of me to say who I will actually be voting for but, along with this paper, I have absolutely no fear and a lot of hope that a hung parliament would actually knock some sense into a political system whose iniquities, brutalities and downright inefficiencies have provided the only negative noises of the past four weeks.

Personally, I think as big a Liberal Democrat vote as possible is the best way to get this, but I can understand that, if you live in a tight Lab/Con constituency, you might want to do something different. The websites and advise you on the best way of achieving a hung parliament from your constituency.

But, honestly, don't listen to me. I'm part of the media, so what do I know? You, the public, have set the agenda this time round, so listen to your heart and head. Above all, go and vote. And enjoy all the attention.

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