Gordon and Alistair as Jedward

The Conservatives are using their digital media sites to display a poster capitalising on the end of Jedward. (Actually, they are probably also astutely aware that they will get far more coverage using just a few poster sites and having a viral campaign as lots of people blog, tweet and email about their poster.)

And I have to say I’m not terribly comfortable with it. Last week I commented on political insults and this probably falls into that category. But while I’m generally comfortable with the types of insult or barb I mentioned I can’t help but feel this is just a tiny bit childish.

I think it’s because it isn’t based in policy, nor is it particularly witty and nor is a comment from an individual, but the party corporately. It’s a bit of Photoshop and a weak pun. A few weeks ago I had been wondered if there was any play in using ‘deadwood’ for David and Ed Miliband. At least they are brothers, and it works with their names. But even then it just isn’t funny and doesn’t really work – there seems to be some substance to Ed Miliband.

I’m really not sure what this is meant to be doing. Are we trying to say that Conservatives watch X Factor and are down with the kids? I’m not really sure. Yes, some Tories do watch it. Others don’t. I tend towards the latter, having watched just one act – Jedward – a few weeks ago. Are we trying to make make some political commentary, following the age-old tradition of satire? Again, I don’t really see how it works. Or are we just trying to attract attention? I think that’s probably the most likely explanation.

If the narrative of the next election is about the very serious work the next government will have to do to repair the country after years of mismanagement then the parties should be serious. It’s OK for David Cameron or William Hague (who is superb at this sort of thing) to use humour to make political points, on that level it is effective and can be devestating. But collectively, surely the party should be above petty posters like this. We should be illustrating how Labour policy has failed and the Conservative policy alternative. We have so much more to say, and I don’t think this is the way to say it.

Here we are trying to compare a couple of guys who have tried their best, but only really succeeded in attracting scorn and pity in equal measure, with John and Edward Grimes. It doesn’t work.

Best political compliments

My earlier post about chugging made me think that I have been attracting a few insults lately. I’m not sure if this is a good or a bad thing. As Wilde said “the only thing worse than being talked about it not being talked about.”

It certainly makes me wonder what it is over the past year or so that means I’ve collected so many more. Perhaps I just wasn’t that interesting before, or maybe it’s a degree of forgetfulness. The only one I remember prior to 2008 was Tony Belton calling me “incendiary and ambitious” in a letter to the Wandsworth Borough News when I was Health Chairman on the council (sometime between 2003 and 2006). And I’m not sure if that was an insult or not, I remember it more because I thought it made me sound like Johnny Storm than because I took offence.

You might think it’s odd that I care about such a thing, but I know there are people who do not agree with me on most, if not all, things. After all, you only need check the 2006 Wandsworth election results to see there were probably 1,500 or so or so who liked the other candidates more and around 7,000 who just couldn’t work up the enthusiasm to vote either for or against me. Once you accept that you are not, and cannot be, universally popular the insult is nothing more than another dimension to that. I accept it in exactly the same way as I accept people’s democratic right to vote for other candidates.

So, while it is perverse, I rather like that Tony Belton called me “Stalinist” during a committee meeting recently. And was tickled to hear that another Labour candidate suggested to a colleague that I was a “combination of the worst parts of Shirley Porter and Ceau┼čescu.” That sort of comment shows real imagination and a knowledge of both local government and international history. It invites people to decide exactly which is the worst part of either of them and I become a sort of Room 101 politician made from a buffet of negative political characteristics.

And while it wasn’t as imaginative, to be at a conference (on improving confidence in the police) and hear from someone that “abhors every word James Cousins utters” shows that, at least, they have heard of me. Although the unintended flattery was lost when I found myself sat next to the person who said it and not only have to introduce myself but also explain who I was.

So why do I appreciate the insults more than the plaudits? A Google for “best political insults” produces 10,500 results. Searching for “best political compliments” returns a meagre 2! Clearly something in our psyche that prefers to use, or perhaps to hear, the negatives of opponents rather than the positives of our side.

It is, perhaps, the return of politics. Since 1990 politics seem to have been far more about who would be the best (or at least, less sleazy) managers of the country. It seems the best bon mots come from times when there was a real political divide and debate about the country. So, for example, while you can find lots about Thatcher, Major gets off quite lightly with a general satire of him as a grey man. My particular favourite comes from a time when two huge characters dominated the political stage, and Disraeli commented of Gladstone: “He has not one single redeeming defect.”

Now we are in the longest recession ever and facing a massive public debt crisis perhaps the lines between parties are becoming clearer. Maybe those involved in politics feel the need, or feel freer, to try to encapsulate the differences. And perhaps, because they highlight the differences if I were I to have a selection of plaudits on the blog – as some do – I’d include those above, in fact, I’d probably just use them and nothing else.