It's about pershonalities, stupid
Newspapers understand perfectly well that politics gets interesting only when you keep ishoos out of
Tony Benn always insists that politics should be about ishoos and not pershonalities. The likes of Hazel Blears echo him, shouting at interviewers that the country wants to discuss schools, hospitals and pensions, not the rivalry between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. It's all nonsense. A good 80 per cent of politics is about personal alliances and enmities, and in the Commons bars all the talk is about who's up, who's down, who's a shit and who's a mere bastard. As for the "ordinary people", to whose wishes Blears claims to be privy, their favourite dramas have always involved pershonalities. I do not recall many successful plays about pensions, though I suppose David Hare may have written one.
Mark Antony, addressing friends, Romans and countrymen, was not interrupted by demands that, instead of rabbiting on about whether Caesar was ambitious and Brutus honourable, he should discuss their road- and aqueduct-building policies.
Newspapers understand this perfectly well. Politics gets interesting only when you keep ishoos out of it. Editors are unenthusiastic about a Brown premiership; they fear it will be a dull one, with too many long speeches in impenetrable Scottish accents. They certainly don't want him to take office without the drama of a contest. They see politics as an extension of the sports pages. The Chancellor had "found himself on the back foot", explained the Daily Telegraph on Monday. As the late Jim Laker used to say, it's swin'in' and seamin' around.
And the Sunday newspapers had got to the bottom of the ball-tampering.
"E-mail conspiracy uncovered," announced the Independent on Sunday front page. "Brown met plotter of 'Blair coup'," screamed the Sunday Times. "Gordon, the golf hotel plotter," offered the Mail on Sunday, even though Brown himself stayed at home and just met a minister who was staying at a nearby hotel.
Only the Sunday Express had an ishoo. "Brown to tax eating out," it splashed. He would put 6 per cent (in addition to VAT) on sit-down meals, 10 per cent on takeaways. I tracked this proposal back to a brief section in a consultants' report on local government finance options written for the Association of London Government last year. The association passed the report to Sir Michael Lyons's inquiry on local government and he gave the "plate tax", as the Express called it, one sentence in his 80-page interim report last December.
Thin stuff, though I've known Sunday splashes based on less. And Brown, once in power, might favour a tax that makes it more expensive for politicians to plot. The anti-Blair conspiracy, the other Sundays reported, was hatched in a Wolverhampton curry house. The Mail on Sunday, however, stuck firmly to the tired and emotional theory of history. The chief conspirators "drank beer and bottles of wine" in Dudley before they moved on to the balti house. Moreover, Charles Clarke, who had called Brown "a deluded control freak", had been drinking red wine at teatime.
With all the pershonalities clearly pissed, can the ishoos make a comeback? Perhaps they can. The most astonishing event of the month so far was not the revelation of the balti-house conspiracy, but the Sun's conversion, on 11 September, to the theory of man-made global warming. "Today and every day this week," announced the paper's front page, "the Sun urges its army of readers to think green." A leader added: "Too many of us have spent too long in denial over the threat from global warming. The evidence is now irresistible." Rupert Murdoch's News International was doing its bit, using low-energy lights and recycled paper. Across each of the Sun's first 27 pages, a strap gave facts about global warming and what could be done. Two double-page spreads drew on Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, now opening in the UK. A map suggested that much of England, including London and most of Essex, would shortly disappear beneath rising seas.
I'd rate this as the most extraordinary development in red-top journalism since Piers Morgan recruited John Pilger, Christopher Hitchens and Jonathan Freedland to yank the Mirror upmarket. What's behind it? Perhaps Murdoch has undergone a green conversion; or maybe the Sun, which prides itself on its ear for popular opinion, expects Gore's film to prompt a surge of greenery.
But think conspiracies here. Item one: the Sun is close to No 10 and often gets early notice of Blair's intentions so it can act, to use the currently popular term, as an outrider. Item two: Blair keeps telling us he wants to stay for a while "to see the job through". But nobody seems to know what the job is supposed to be. What about saving humanity from mass drowning? Could that be done by Christmas, or even next summer? Or, come to that, by 2010? Après moi, le déluge, quite literally. You read it here first.
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