One of the biggest standing ovations during David Cameron’s speech this week came when he said: “A tragedy is nearly three thousand people murdered one morning in New York.”
It may seem an odd point to cheer, but it’s probably because they were all primary school teachers, used to saying “very good, that’s absolutely right”, whenever a child says something true, and they imagined they’d said: “Can anyone give me an example of a tragedy – how about you, David?”
He could have made the place go berserk if he’d followed it up with, “Next, I’ll tell you a type of insect – a mosquito.” Then he could have listed all the continents off by heart, and they’d have crowd-surfed him across the conference centre.
There may be another reason they all cheered, which is that the sentence followed Cameron’s claim that Jeremy Corbyn said the death of Osama Bin Laden was a tragedy. The implication was, therefore, that Corbyn didn’t think the deaths in New York were a tragedy.
You can understand why Cameron believed this – because Jeremy Corbyn said it was a tragedy Bin Laden wasn’t put on trial, and then said, “The attack on the World Trade Centre was a tragedy.” And when you read between the lines of that sentence, it obviously means “the attack on the World Trade Centre wasn’t a tragedy in the slightest”.
This is a marvellous technique, to pretend your opponent said the complete opposite of what they actually said, and then get angry about the words they didn’t say. Corbyn could retaliate now by saying, “The Prime Minister said the Battle of the Somme was a bloody good giggle. Well, it’s not so funny if your great-grandad was run over by a tank. He also said nothing makes him laugh so much as gangland knife crime. But I for one will never shank anyone.”
This imaginative method suggests that when Cameron retires as Prime Minister, he would make a fascinating quiz show host. It would be compelling television, as he asked, “Where in the body is your femur?” Then the contestant would say “I think it’s the thigh, David,” and he’d reply, “No, you idiot, it’s the thigh. I’m afraid you leave with nothing, goodbye.”
In other parts of his speech, he was just as creative, and determined not to get bogged down in the dull formality of accuracy. So he said, “It’s never too late”, then read out a letter he’d received before the election from a pensioner who had always voted Labour but changed his mind. But it turns out the election at which the pensioner changed his mind was the one in 1987, and he’d voted Tory ever since.
Next year he could read out another one that says, “I think you’re the bravest Prime Minister ever”, without mentioning it was written to Lord Salisbury in 1885.
Even so, his speech has been reported as “reaching out to the centre ground”, for supporting gay equality and mentioning an “assault on poverty”. This must be why he’s cut the tax credits of the poorest people, making them worse off. For too long it’s been assumed that the way to get people out of poverty is to make them less poor.
Instead, their assault on poverty is to insist that the reason why people are poor is that we should work harder, like they do in China. There can be no finer example of everyone enjoying their hard-earned wealth than China, and we all envy the teenagers in their sweat shops, frolicking merrily as reward for putting in a bit of graft.
This idea that the Conservatives are reaching for the centre ground seems to be based entirely on the speech, even if they behave in a way that’s the opposite. It suggests that the real tragedy of Bin Laden, is that if he’d made a video in which he said, “We must make a jihad that includes all of us. Gays and lesbians must be given the opportunity to blow things up, and I promise there will be less poverty in paradise”, the press would have reported “Al Qaeda reaches out for centre ground.”
With a similar tweak of reality, the demonstrations outside the Tory conference, in which 60,000 people took part in what seemed a joyful occasion, were described as a “violent protest” and numerous articles mentioned only that there was spitting, and someone threw an egg. There could be a demonstration of Benedictine monks, and most newspapers would report “Terror on streets as one demonstrator blew his nose and didn’t say ‘pardon me’.”
But now, even worse, Jeremy Corbyn isn’t attending a meeting he doesn’t have to attend with the Queen. Alan Duncan, a member of the Privy Council, said this proves Corbyn isn’t a “serious politician”, because if he was serious he’d be eager to kneel by a woman’s leg and brush her hand with his beard while uttering a 17th-century oath.
Who knows what other secret rituals you’re supposed to perform to prove you’re serious. There’s probably one where you sing the national anthem dressed as a dandelion while gargling with Domestos, with Alan Duncan shrieking “stick your petals on properly, please be serious”.
The purpose of this Privy Council meeting, it seems, is to “advise the Queen on her prerogative powers”. And presumably without Corbyn this will fall apart, as Her Majesty cries, “Am I allowed to kick Nicholas Witchell in the crotch or not? If only that Corbyn was here to advise me, I might find out.”
But all that matters is he’s “snubbed” the Queen by not turning up to something he’s not required to turn up to, and probably bores her stupid as well. I bet the Queen is thinking “well done Jeremy, if only these other idiots would not turn up I could have the afternoon off”. And even if he did turn up, Cameron would look at him and say, “How disgraceful, you’ve not turned up. I shall mention that in next year’s speech.”
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies