A column startlingly rank in its unpleasantness today from Jan Moir, ostensibly talking about the pre-Budget press breakfast hosted by the Chancellor and his wife:
“Never mind the Budget, what about that ghastly budget breakfast? Alistair and Margaret Darling’s stagey repast on Wednesday morning was more theatrical than an end-of-the-pier Christmas panto – and slightly less believable.”
Quite apart from this missing the point spectacularly¹, the meanness of spirit evident in the sentence is striking – Darling is a man derided as being almost inhumanly dull (to take an example, in his sketch on the budget yesterday, fellow columnist Quentin Letts described Mr Darling as ‘the voice of accountancy manuals made flesh‘), and yet when he does try and present himself in a more relaxed setting he’s set upon. Which way should we have him – personable or inaccessible? Inaccessible it seems:
“‘The regrettable message from this most bogus of brekkies is that the Treasury thinks we are all as stupid as a huckleberry muffin.
It is obvious Mr Darling starts the day with nothing more than a bracing glass of tap water and a frozen suppository.”
Now, there is an obvious debate to be had around the presentation of politics, how necessary it is to have photo ops of you and your wife prior to giving the Budget speech and the idea of the paradox of liberal democracy², but surely we can have it without resorting to personal attacks? Apparently not:
“I don’t mean to be rude, but I bet it’s the first time Mrs Darling has had a frock on at breakfast time since the day she got married.
In her previous life, as a journalist on a Scottish newspaper, her occasionally frowsy appearance meant she was sometimes mistaken for the office cleaner.”
It seems we can’t even avoid collateral damage.³ Somewhere in all of this mud was a point about the manufactured nature of political image, but what Jan determindly misses is her own role in it. She presents a series of caricatures, drumming home the idea of the robotic Darling, his slovenly wife and their snobbish life when they’re off-duty, people disconnected from the electorate they are trying to appeal to. Her objection is the gulf between this ‘truthful’ depiction and the depiction of the Darling’s at breakfast, without stopping to wonder whether the former has bred the latter.
“Look. Kissing babies and posing for unlikely pix may be a necessary, regrettable part of the political landscape, but please, Darlings, don’t insult us too much.”
It isn’t, it’s completely unnecessary. We could be discussing policies, but instead we’re reducing everything to a soap opera of character misjudgements and personal attacks. This column does nothing to improve matters, it just further constructs the public image which the Chancellor will need to oppose if he is to get his message across and be taken seriously. While objecting to the cheapening of politics through theatrics, the column itself cheapens it, defeating what little object it had. To do it so poisonously only compounds the fault. If there’s no place for Darling’s breakfast there should certainly be no place for this.
¹ It’s similar to bemoaning the traditional photo op hosted on the steps of number 11 with the red box – the Chancellor would never wave it about like that if the cameras weren’t there, it’s all a sham.
² Which essentially runs that the more you tell people what you’re doing as a politician, the more likely they are to believe you’re a liar.
³ As a side point, if you need to apologise or justify your comment before you make it, you probably shouldn’t be making it – it suggests a knowing guilt that what you’re about to say transgresses some sort of boundary.