Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The unbelievable in pursuit of the unbearable

I don't know about you, but I'm getting pretty sick of the sterile, pointless farce that masquerades as political debate these days. Last night I watched Newsnight, that bastion of 'well, he thinks you're an idiot: what have you got to say about that?' discourse, and I think I finally, after many many years, reached the end of my tolerance.

If you're in the UK, you can watch it here. You'll see Chloe Smith, the Conservative MP for Norwich North, and Rachel Reeves, MP for Leeds West and Shadow Chief Secretary to the Secretary. The subject was IMF boss Christine Lagarde's speech about the British economy.

The first depressing element of the exchange was the suspicion that both parties and the show had put up young female politicians to make it look like they're representative of the parties, and to make economics somehow more approachable. The Tories are more to blame for this one, I feel, as Reeves is actually in an economic role, whereas Smith is just a backbencher. Then, the presenter pointed out that Smith refused to debate with her Labour counterpart - she simply demanded a pulpit from which to pronounce her interpretation without challenge.

But the worse aspect of the whole sterile encounter was the robotic determination of both parties to parrot ready-cooked lines. If you watched the speech, you'd have noticed that Lagarde had some supportive things to say about the government, and some very critical things to say.

If you only listened to Rachel Reeves, you'd think that Lagarde had turned up, kicked Osborne in his gentleman's area while mocking his innumeracy and economic insanity. Conversely, if you listened to Chloe Smith alone, you'd have left with the impression that Lagarde had slipped Osborne some tongue, then pinned the Grand Order of Economic Genius medal to his chest while begging for his autograph.

In sum, it was a pointless exercise in spin. Neither politician could afford to state the obvious: that the speech was ambivalent about both their ideas and politics is more complicated than 'he said/she said'. Instead, they just repeated the pre-cooked lines until the 8 minutes were over. Smith announced that we'd all be living on the Big Rock Candy Mountain by next Thursday, while Reeves announced that Labour opposed the 50p tax rate cut while repeatedly avoiding the question of whether Labour would reinstate it.

Personally, I view Chloe Smith as a Tory seat-warmer and quite like Rachel Reeves as an effective communicator and sharper mind - but they're both prime examples of how intelligence and personality are subjugated to political discourse as the greasy pole is climbed. Lagarde is yet another example: once a vaguely liberal-left critic of global finance, now she's it's international shill.

What a waste of their time and mine.

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