Continuing the transcripts of my contributions to Michael Greenwell’s The Polling Station podcast over the last few days. You can listen to it each day here – it's always well worth it. Even my bit.
Watching the Andrew Marr Show is a great way of getting a hangover, even if you haven’t actually been drinking. It’s got an intoxicating title sequence, with the subliminal message “Hey, look at this hip and quirky guy!”, as Action Man Andy buzzes past London landmarks on his turquoise scooter to the accompaniment of a jazzy wail with urgent diddly-dum undertones. However, in almost no time your head begins to throb with disappointment, as his first guest appears and it becomes crashingly obvious he’s forgotten to think up any questions.
This week Andy sat like an utter berk, offering no challenge as Boris Johnson, looking more and more like the bastard offspring of Caligula and the Honey Monster, accidentally-on-purpose mangled the SNP’s name three times. “The Scottish Nationalist Party”, trumpeted the blond bombshell, in that schoolboy prankster fashion that’s made him the idol of the Conservatosser Party.
Boris’s tour de farce marked another stage in the Tories’ ramping up of anti-SNP hysteria, which now includes posters in English marginal seats showing Alex Salmond as a pickpocket.
Abandoning conventional electioneering in favour of outright slander is a time-honoured Tory tactic, and it’s much cheaper than employing a whole bunch of researchers on zero-hours contracts, so it’s a win all round. Pundits agree, probably because they’ve all read the same press release, that this approach is “cutting through” to swing voters, who are deserting UKIP and going back to the Tories, simultaneously lowering the average IQ of both parties.
The Mail on Sunday, the preferred newspaper of the party’s goose-stepping wing, is playing an increasingly strident role in this demonising of democracy. Its headline, the runaway winner of Terminological Inexactitude of the Day, was also - in its own fashion - a major scoop. We all knew Theresa May was a feckless Home Secretary with terrorists running rings round her, but who’d have thought she’d also turn out to be a head-banging fantasist who thinks the Abdication was a bigger deal than World War Two?
Star turn on the day's whirligig of lies was the Telegraph’s front-page letter, ostensibly signed by leaders of 5,000 small and medium-sized businesses, saying how brilliant things were under the Tories’ long-term psychopathic plan, and pleading for 5 more years so the nation could be completely brought to its knees.
As you might suspect, the whole thing was a concoction of Conservative Campaign HQ spearheaded by Karren Brady, best known as Lord Sugar’s annoying wee clipe on The Apprentice, who’d been trawling the Internet for support for weeks. Of course, in that time approximately 5,195,000 businesses hadn’t signed the letter, but in the wonderful world of propaganda, where cat-sick can be passed off as cottage cheese, that didn’t matter a jot. This was an important intervention in the election, so we should all lay down our cereal spoons and LISTEN.
It was reminiscent of the choreographed news-mugging the Yes campaign regularly experienced, but with one significant difference. In the run-up to the referendum we were up against ruthless professionals with steel-trap minds, whereas in this case the Tories seemed to have outsourced the job to a confederation of village idiots.
Not only had their minions left glaring virtual fingerprints all over it, as Andrew Neil pointedly observed on the Daily Politics show, but the list of signatories was full of duplicates, people who weren’t directors or shareholders, characters from Game of Thrones and various anagrams of Grant Shapps. “It’s a shambles!” proclaimed Neil, his wiry thatch sparking with indignation, as the Tories’ human shield of the day, Treasury minister David Gauke, adopted the vaguely forlorn expression of a bloke who’d forgotten to wear his incontinence pants.
So was the whole episode really “catastrophic backfiring stunt of the day”? In a just universe it would be. But, gob-smackingly, a few hours later, the BBC 6 o’clock news was still reporting the letter as if it mattered, when the real story should have been the Tories trying to defraud the electorate. Meanwhile, Andrew Neil’s awesome demolition job might as well have been a dream.
What does all this tell us? Three things:
(1) You couldn’t make it up.
(2) Unfortunately, they can.
(3) If someone offers you cottage cheese, be very careful.
As the knackered old baggage carousel of anti-SNP slurs creaks depressingly round, one of the claims constantly trundling into view is the idea that a large contingent of SNP MPs exerting influence on policy throughout the UK is somehow illegitimate. Hang on, what about all those warm words we got from the Ministry of Patronising Pish? “We want you to LEAD the UK, not leave it.” Did we miss the small print again? “Sorry, chaps, you’re only allowed to lead it where we tell you, and, just to make sure, we’ll be standing behind you with a cattle prod.”
This idea that the SNP having clout simply isn’t cricket underpinned Kaye Adams’ interview, or perhaps the term should be “sneerathon”, with Nicola Sturgeon yesterday. Those of you with offices to commute to may be unaware of Kaye, whose helpline and counselling service for Unionist bampots is broadcast on Radio Scotland at 9 am. If you’ve a tendency to sleep in, however, her voice will get you up and out of bed faster than anything, apart from waking up next to a horse’s head.
Yesterday Kaye managed to be snooty, condescending, dismissive, passive-aggressive, hostile, and often all five at once, but that’s like saying water is wet. It was her line of questioning in one wee section towards the end that jarred like a comb-and-tissue paper in a string quartet. I can’t quite capture her niggly tone, but let me paraphrase.
“What about voters in the rest of the UK who’ll have you exerting influence but can’t vote you out? You’re not even standing outside Scotland. Do you have a problem with that as a democrat?”
You won’t be surprised, since I’m obviously completely biased, to hear that Nicola dealt with the question with aplomb. Impressively, she also managed it without lamping Kaye with the nearest heavy object.
But seriously, folks, it’s disturbing to see this pernicious “illegitimacy” tosh constantly tip-toeing into the debate. A bloc of even 59 MPs out of 650 in no way constitutes illegitimate influence, unless the other 591 are cardboard cut-outs too stupid or obsessed with duckponds to do their jobs properly.
And if, by chance, some of them are, I’m sure Scotland can offer their constituents a few tips on clearing ‘em out in 2020. That’s the power of democracy.