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Shoot the speechwriters!

Tawfiq Chahboune


I am not on the whole keen on giving the Tories (a very fitting description; they do not deserve to use the honourable appellation of “Conservatives”) what I consider my expert advice. It may lead to the end of one of the few blood sports I really do enjoy. Another blood sport I’m hypnotised by is the compelling and hilarious one where unions pay the “Labour” Party to kick their heads in and then, in between delirious declarations of gratitude and arrangements for another appointment, lick clean the “Labour” jackboots at the end of a sadomasochistic bashing that even the Marquis de Sade would have found repelling. But, then, these are desperate times, to borrow Gore Vidals description of American politics for our own two indistinguishable major political parties, for the blue half of the Business Party, are they not, especially now that the red half is supported by such progressive organs as the Financial Times, the Economist and the Sun? And in any case, hating only the blue half of the Business Party is an exercise in futility: it’s a bit like having an aversion to only one of the Chuckle Brothers (Tony and Gordon?). The only non-expert, generalised advice I freely give is that you should be wary of octogenarian German-speaking residents of South America whose memories of the thirties and forties are inexplicably hazy, never play pool with anyone whose first name is that of a U.S. city, and the grieving relative (usually the stepfather) at a press conference for missing whoeveritis almost certainly is the cause for the missing whoeveritis.


Whomever the Tories choose to lead them - David Davis, currently the clear leader, would be a terrible choice for regaining power as he would be on Territorial SAS training exercises most weekends, a time usually reserved for lingerie, citrus fruits and weird foot-controlled contraptions with a plastic bag attached at the end - the first thing they must do is to get rid of their speechwriters (David Davis is capable of breaking their necks with a flick of his wrist, or boring them to death by merely speaking). That in itself would ensure the Tories a rise in the polls. While they’re at it, they should distance themselves from “think tanks”, or get Mr Davis to blow the shit out of them with a real tank. Memorably ridiculed as “more tank than think” by Frank “Make My Day” Dobson, think tanks have nevertheless undergone a miraculous transformation: their ravings are now taken seriously. Speechwriters, by contrast, have always been taken seriously. No matter what gibberish they put before a politician, the politician invariably articulates it with the gusto reserved to Old Testament prophets revealing the word of the Lord.


All the Tory leaders since Margaret Thatcher’s demise have been utterly useless when it comes to writing, or having someone write, a decent speech. Whatever one may think of the demented Thatcher (the “enemy within”, for example, was a rather catchy and efficacious, though quasi-fascist, phrase), she knew how to pick a speechwriter. Mr Major, for some bizarre reason, spoke at length about creating a “cone hotline”. I’m no political apparatchik but I’m cognisant enough to realise that one sure sign of a political party starting to implode is when their leader, and the sitting prime minister, starts discussing traffic cones to an electorate looking for revenge. Given that Major was utterly useless at everything - look at who he chose to have an affair with, leaving Norma the saucy minx all on her lonesome, dreaming of a major john to keep her company - he surely employed a speechwriter to scribble some gibberish about geometrical objects used in road vehicle control. Incidentally, I never thought that Blair quoting Star Trek’s Mr Spock would go unnoticed: “the many and not the few” is mouthed by both big-eared killing machines. A phrase as bad as this can only be the handiwork of Alastair Campbell, an incredibly dense man everyone mistook for a knowledgeable politico - and, lest we forget, a former male prostitute (“providing it” for those “gagging for it”, he bragged).


William Hague fared no better than John Major. Although Hague was generally considered to have been blessed with oratorical skills and a sardonic repartee to rival Churchill, his alleged razor-sharp wit deserted him when he led the Tories to guaranteed annihilation under the freakish slogan of “The Common Sense Revolution”. Has the noble word “revolution” ever been used so shockingly? How he failed to notice such a good joke (almost certainly courtesy of Michael Howard) is hard to fathom. His “Common Sense Revolution” consisted of hating immigrants and asylum seekers, single mothers, the poor and the mysterious creatures known as the “metropolitan liberal elite”. That this hilariously stupid election strategy was the brainchild of the brainless Amanda Platell is no surprise. At the 2001 general election the Tories were humiliated as badly as they had in 1997, and Hague resigned immediately to spend more time wrestling with the hard, firm body of Seb Coe on judo mats.


Iain Duncan Smith had, it is true, many serious failings, and it is also undeniably true that fellow Tory MPs had been sharpening their chainsaws ever since his election as party leader. All in all, IDS never stood much chance. But what exactly possessed IDS to go out of his way to hire a team of sadistic assassins (almost certainly double agents for Michael Howard) to do a job on himself? They certainly did their job well, taking great pleasure in killing him slowly and embarrassingly before finally bringing to an end IDS’s pathetic and dismal tenure. Take, for example, IDS’s mind boggling character assassination of himself: “Do not underestimate the determination of a quiet man”. The following year the speechwriters went two better. As an hors-d’oeuvre IDS was informed that the best way forward was to threaten the maniacs already undermining him with a call to “unite or die”. The maniacs, known as the parliamentary Conservative Party, preferred death. IDS-style unity was for them a fate worse than a fate worse than death. The best was, as ever, left to last. After many late nights revising, polishing and revamping what was considered to be a make or break conference speech, the semiconscious simpletons within the IDS speechwriting camp imparted to the not yet doomed IDS that his leadership would be assured if he would only give out a mortifying scream that he was “turning up the volume”. Scream he did. Doomed he was. The volume was permanently turned down. Michael Howard was at long last elected Tory leader.


Weirdly, Michael Howard succumbed to his own IDS strategy: hire speechwriters who will make you look completely mad. Seeing an astonishing opening to slash “Labour’s” obscenely large majority to next to nothing, especially given that it is based almost solely on tactical and protest voting (a protest vote for “Labour”! Wonders will never cease), Howard decided to fight the 2005 general election on the great issue of the day - gypsies. All in all, Howard is a strange man. For instance, the only occasions when Michael “Ibuleve” Howard, fighting out of the blue corner, ran rings around Tony “Five Times A Night” Blair, fighting out of the red corner (an event brought to you and sponsored by Big Business), was when his researchers scoured the leftwing press for juicy nuggets of information. The Spokesman seemed to be a favourite; every new edition saw the Tories regurgitating the journal’s findings on Iraq. But come the election there was no sign of slapping “Labour” silly with all these leftie revelations. Voters were scared senseless into the arms of a man most of the electorate consider a liar and someone who ought to resign immediately. It takes real talent to achieve this, but Howard’s class loyalty and all that, old boy, won the day.


Fast forward to the next leadership contest. Unfortunately, my favourite Tory, the ridiculous Oliver Letwin, will not be contesting the crown. Almost universally considered by a simpleton press to have a brain to rival that of Marx and Einstein put together, Letwin has never recovered from Rory Bremner’s wonderful parody of him as an eighteenth century dandy. Disastrously for “Labour”, David Cameron and Ken Clarke, Davis’s main contenders for the Tory leadership, seem to be savvy enough to have thus far distanced themselves from the maddest speech-mongers, although Clarke’s description of ambulance drivers as “glorified taxi drivers” is an insult he was able to make up without any help from anyone. That is not to say that the new Tory leader will not say awfully stupid things (they are Tories, after all!), just that the gaffes and insults will be less frequent. Whether the Tories plump for Cameron or Clarke - and for those who have been living under a rock for the past eight years, Clarke would annihilate “Labour”, and on present form so might Cameron - the prospect of another thumping “Labour” victory looks increasingly faint.


If, however, the Tories choose David Davis, a man who has no talent, no charisma, no vision, no political nous, yet can lay strange claim to being championed by many of his parliamentary party colleagues (the 2005 crop of new Tories must see something their 2001 colleagues could not: in 2001 Davis came last in a field including the winning IDS), his hopes will hinge on whether Tory Party members will have another IDS moment and choose someone who will again lead them into opposition rather than out of it, Gordon Brown can look forward to perhaps two terms as PM.


Now, as strange as it may seem, there is a good argument, tactical as well as principled, that demands anyone with a progressive bone in their body to briefly join the Tory Party so as to vote for Clarke, who, in any case, is ostensibly more progressive than Blair or Brown or, for that matter, any of the leading candidates hoping to replace Blair. The result of a Clarke win will be yet another “Labour” purging of progressive “preversions” and “deviated preverts” - what remains is already lamentable - to quote Colonel “Bat” Guano from Dr Strangelove, that not even the most forgiving and supine leftie or progressive will delude themselves into thinking that there are any concrete differences between the blue and red halves of the Business Party, or, comically, that “Labour” can be reclaimed (perhaps the union-kneecapping, fascist-supporting halcyon days of Attlee, Wilson and Callaghan can be regained? In that sense at least, New “Labour” is not so New). The Left may then have no option but to try to build a genuinely progressive Party. The “Labour” right will scuttle back to their spiritual home of rightwing liberalism.


After all, Tories have on occasion - the years of “Butskellism” are a fine example - been far less antagonistic to the “Labour Movement” than the “Labour” Party has. This truth has always been rather unpalatable to many. As is the economic fact that, in general, Tory governments have been far more beneficial to workers (a secondary and almost accidental outcome of capitalist dynamics) than when their “red” chums held power. That the Tories refuse to proclaim this from the rooftops is testimony to their overriding class hatred. Indeed, the very fact that the Tory Party is not permanently in power, given the opposition, is almost paradoxical. Tory policies, give or take, are chronically ensconced until workers decide otherwise and enforce change, which the red half of the Business Party then takes credit for. If the Tories could just swallow their pride, and banged on about how they have made economic life better than “Labour”, then “Labour” would sink without a trace (indeed, the Tory-supporting Alf Garnett did not know the half of it when he would regularly face down his “Labour”-supporting son in law). By the way, the shortest joke in the English language is “Labour Party”, a Party dedicated to crushing a “Labour Movement”, as represented by the TUC, which funds, caps doffed and forelocks tugged, its own destruction (pity the fool who can’t see this glaring fact and how funny it is); the second shortest but most sadistic is “Labour Friends Of Iraq”, having knocked “Cross-making Friends Of Jesus” into second place and “BNP Friends of Pakis” into third place.


The one “achievement” - the standard is that low - the awesomely bad TUC persistently points to is that of nationalisation. The brilliant socialist thinker Anton Pannekoek summed it up thus: “nationalisation is a capitalist necessity, to which the name socialisation is given” and that, in the case of British nationalisation, “a ‘socialist’ Labour government was needed to establish capitalist efficiency”, so that “the reform was not made” for the workers but “as a consequence of private ownership encumbered with an entirely antiquated lack of organisation”. (My favourite absurdity in which the TUC takes great pride is John Prescott: Yes! proud trade unionist and deputy PM. Don’t it make you proud? That anyone can feel anything other than shame and disgust that this half-baked halfwit is lauded by anyone in the “Labour Movement” is something that will forever boggle my mind.)


The myth about nationalisation lingers since it benefits both sides. In the same way that the USSR was called socialist by both sides - the USSR endeavoured to arouse leftwing sympathy in its heroic “socialist” battle against capitalism, and capitalists could denounce socialism as the USSR. Furthermore, the one so-called “Labour” achievement is that of the NHS. The fact that an embryonic NHS was started under the Tories, only to be pursued by Attlee et al, is something both sides are too embarrassed to retell. All in all, to misquote Marx, the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles, not of the Labour and Tory Parties. Or, as the future Lord Hailsham so drastically put it, “Give them social reform or they will give you social revolution”. That is to say, Tory or “Labour” would have to throw the workers a bone or two - welfare state, NHS, etc - or face the possible consequences of a radicalised populace. All industrial struggles, state spending, civil liberties, etc, are, more or less, the result of capitalist dynamics and fears, not the kind intentions of political parties. Thus explaining the generally similar policies Tory and “Labour” have followed while in office (long before the appearance of Maggie, Thatcherite policies were pursued by Wilson and Callaghan; overthrowing democracies and supporting dictatorships are common to both, having little to do with Thatcher per se).


By now the reader will surely have realised that the author has never had much time for the “Vote socialist where you can, Labour where you must” brigade of socialism. It is plainly so stupid that it is not worth saying any more on the matter. While I’m at it, I couldn’t quite figure out why the unions that wanted to “democratise” their political funds ruled out funding certain political parties. Where is the “democracy” in pre-empting who the membership can fund? Why not have a straightforward motion saying that the members can fund whomever they jolly well like? And if the “Labour” Party doesn’t like it, it can find the money elsewhere, perhaps in the same way Alastair Campbell used to during his days as a male prostitute. Or decide not to have a political fund at all? The toadying to the “Labour” Party was extraordinary.


To their shame, “leftwing” trade unionists dreamt up this sop to “Labour”, but then traditionally - and traditions do die hard - trade unions have never had much time for democracy: it might give the workers funny ideas about democracy, and then where would the right and the authoritarian “left” be when faced with workers’ power? The workers might even be won over to socialism infused with real worker participation (libertarian socialism, council communism, anarcho-syndicalism), for instance, rather than a bureaucratic elite, allied to the bosses, making decisions for what they consider the stupid workers who are unable to comprehend much beyond the racing results and the big tits on page 3 of the Sun (Littlejohn and Kavanagh?). I mean, name a Tory who could do a greater disservice to fire-fighters than, say, Jim Fitzpatrick MP? Or, indeed, the cowardly FBU leadership, who were more determined to kneecap their own brave members than to embarrass the “Labour” Party and a supine TUC (a mystery that the cheesy biscuit can be so supine without breaking apart. Yoga? Tantric Union Congress?).  


The Tories and “Labour” are under the impression that they are actually different. Very much in the same way that the Guardian’s Andrew Anthony, in his futile attempt to be taken seriously and radiate the appearance of an intelligent commentator, believes that he is not saying exactly what Christopher Hitchens has already said, using almost exactly the same words. If this were a country where free speech were protected, I might even say that Anthony is a plagiarist and someone who can’t think for himself, and is so sad that he even uses a very similar Hitchens-style by-line photo; no lavish Vanity Fair expense account for you, you pathetic tenth-rate Hitchens-wannabe. However, since this is not America, the only country with some semblance of protection of free speech, I will not say something so manifestly silly. I really don’t know why the Guardian doesn’t pay Hitchens to reprint his stuff rather than continue to pay Mr Anthony for miraculously - what else but a miracle that this “plagiarism” happens so often? - repeating, almost verbatim, someone else’s increasingly weird journalism.


Hopefully, we shall see Ken Clarke at the next election as Tory leader. The result will be a lot of constituencies turning blue. The policies of a Clarke or a Brown premiership, in any case, will be almost identical and so nothing will have actually changed. Progressives, however, will continue to delude themselves that there is a difference, and, a la the Kennedy assassination, will bemoan the loss of a Brown premiership as one of indescribable privation to world history. Why anyone would be fussed by a change in government, not policy, beats the hell out of me. And the only advice I’m willing to offer a fellow jazz-loving football fan who wears Hush Puppies is shoot the speechwriters and blow the shit out of the think tanks. If you follow these wise words, Mr Clarke, the keys to 10 Downing Street will be yours. Indeed, they will be in Tory Party hands indefinitely. Don’t forget me, Ken, when you start handing out the juicy quango directorships, or decide that a new face is needed at Tory Party HQ to run the show. And as we all have our price, I’d be willing to stop being a “deviated prevert” and to denounce my leftwing “preversions”.


PS. The following question presents itself: how much did Hague and IDS pay their speechwriters? The man to see if they want their money back - and they undoubtedly have a cast iron claim for a refund - is Michael Howard. Meanwhile, Mr Howard should contact, er, Mr Howard, or find a gypsy to blame. And if Mr Major can find a decent speechwriter, maybe between them they’ll be able to come up with an amusing joke about hot lines, traffic cones and Curry.


October 2005


For Socialist Unity ~ For Internationalism ~ For Peace ~ For Justice ~ For Unity ~ For Socialism