Sunday 18 April 2010

The honest truth

This is a series of musings brought on by quick flicks through the ash cloud of coverage we've had of the leaders' debate and the subsequent polls. Somewhere in it, I think there is a coherent narrative, which is about how much easier it is to tell the truth - hence the title.

Let's start with David Cameron's stories. They've been thoroughly covered (taken apart) in many places, such as in the Guardian. Now, using stories, including fictional ones, as a communication technique has a long and honourable history. Reagan and Ted Kennedy in particular were masters of it. One of Reagan's favourites - you can tell it was a favourite because he repeated it so often, was "One for the gipper" where a crewman in a stricken warplane told his mates "One for the gipper" as the plane crashed and they all died. Self evidently a fiction because of its ending, and strangely amorphous in its purpose (something to do with heroism for the cause) yet very effective at rousing the campaigners and voters. Cameron's mistake was to get details wrong, which resulted in a thorough media wide fisking. Even though the incidents are true, in that they happened, he manages to get the details dreadfully wrong because he is trying to use them inauthentically.

Jane Merrick and Brian Brady in the Independent point out that Clegg used stories too. But presumably he got the details right. I haven't checked any of them, but I have no doubt that some of the fresh faced youth in the Tories' rebuttal team have been working feverishly on them, and are currently biting their knuckles because of their inability to find anything to critique. (If they had found something it would undoubtedly already be in the Mail and the Telegraph.)

That, in my view, is the main difference between Clegg and the Terrible Twins. His performance looked effortless and natural, because he basks in the luxury that we have for years fought, worked and campaigned ceaselessly for. He is telling the truth. When he says we're different from them, it's true. When he says that our tax and spend plans are fully audited, it's true. I loved the bit in Matthew Ancona's piece in the Telegraph where he reports George Osborne saying that our policies will come under the scrutiny that we've been avoiding for so long. Pray, George, when exactly have we been avoiding scrutiny? Nick went straight on to the Paxman show for a Paxo grilling on his policies, unlike Cameron, who, like Brown, has had to be dragged there because they now know they can't avoid it. For years we've been begging the media for more time, more time, more time. It's not us who've been avoiding it, George, it's your friends in the newspapers and the TV stations who haven't had the gumption to look at us properly.

There's another thing I like about Matthew Ancona's piece. It's the complete disjunction between the narrative Ancona attempts to put across with the facts that he actually uses. Ancona's piece is entitled "David Cameron must sweep aside the impostor who stole his act". He wants to position Clegg as the impostor. The trouble is that nothing in the piece he then writes lends any credence whatsoever to that narrative - it's all about Clegg winning because he's telling the truth, and Cameron having to find ways to adjust because his dodgy "honest, guv" strategy is failing badly. Cameron himself has always been an impostor, and he's being found out.

Ancona's blindness to the realities of life is evident in his belief that Clegg stole Cameron's act as the "insurgent". That he can genuinely believe that Cameron, who oozes privilege and his belief in it from every pore, can be an insurgent, suggests that he is on a prolonged course of happy pills, and shows no sign of coming off them in the immediate future.

One final thing I like. Andrew Neil on his BBC blog says "A growing group of influential Tories want "Cameron to be Cameron" in the next debate." Please, please, let it be so, that's all I ask.

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