Between the Lines: Viewing the policy reviewers

Everyone at the Labour Party conference this year was on valium. Or some other, sense-dulling tranquillizer. Or maybe they were just faking it for the TV cameras. The reasoning is, presumably, that a party of people who look half asleep—like a conference hall full of stunned circus lions—will not look like a threat to anything, least of all the capitalist system. Watching the annual Labour conference ritual on the box, it was clear that the Tory reserve team is not only anxious to show the world that it has abandoned any principles it once claimed to hold, but that it has de-odourised the once lively atmosphere of the Labour conference so that all voter-unfriendly pongs of dissent are hidden. If you are going to try to beat the Tories at their own game, then it’s best to run your conference just like the Tories do.


For most of the conference sessions it looked as if TV viewers had stumbled upon live—or maybe just semi-live—coverage of a small-time bankers’ convention. The conference hall was dominated by a huge white platform, resembling a third-world watch-tower, on which sat the biggest bankers in the Broad Church; periodically one of them would pop up from behind the white blocks to defend odd bits of the infamous Policy Review. Old policies abandoned, back into the leadership tomb descended the men in grey suits. Roy Hattersley, who tended to look pretty tranquillized long before it became mandatory, clapped Neil Kinnock’s speech in the sort of way that David Owen used to clap David Steel.


Kinnock droned on for sixty-seven minutes of undiluted reformist garbage. Like last year, he was still eager to get his hands on the market system and let it ravage him. Hattersley looked eager to go home to a hot water bottle, and Jim Callaghan smiled the smile of a bad father watching his son fall into his old ways. Interviewed after Kinnock’s verbal equivalent of running the London Marathon wearing flippers. Lord Jim told the BBC nonentity who is doing Robin Day’s old job that he was satisfied to see the Labour Party return to common sense after these past few years of silly talk about banning nuclear weapons and all that. One suspected that Jim was not the only satisfied Lord to have observed Kinnocks performance.


I have always tried to watch at least some of the Labour Party’s conference on the TV. It used to have a bit of vitality about it, if nothing else. That was before Labour’s new publicity boss, Peter Mandelson, who realises that what Wapping thinks matters a lot more than what the workers need to say, decided to clean up the environment by weeding out any signs of open discussion before the cameras. I shall not bother to watch them next year. If I want stage-managed displays of bad taste there is always the Miss World show this month; the audience there is automatically tranquillized by the wit and wisdom of the contestants: “I’m Miss Zaire and I hope to see the world and open my own dance studio”. Has she ever thought of taking up speech-writing for Neil Kinnock if victory eludes her?


Labour v Labour
Sorry to dwell on the Labour Party, but Question Time (BBC1, 5 October. 10.45pm) did have two of them on the panel. One was John Smith, a fully reconstructed, Mandelson-moulded, slimline, camera-friendly Kinnockite, and the other was Arthur Scargill who still believes that the jury is out on the question of whether Labour intends to abolish capitalism. He said that he would like to see Labour take on the real problem which is the need to get rid of the capitalist system. Of course, what he means is that he wants to see more state capitalism (nationalisation). Also on the panel was Baroness Seear, who is the Deputy Leader of the SLD in the House of Lords. (Wow! That must have been a job she wanted since she was a little girl.) She accused Smith of not being a socialist. Scargill was an old-fashioned socialist, she said, but Smith was no kind of socialist at all. Scargill found this all very amusing—just as well for him there was no Socialist Party speaker on the panel to blow his credentials. Smith insisted that he was a socialist. Seear was not satisfied; if Smith was a socialist, she said, let him define what socialism means. Smith looked awkward. Lucky for him that Peter Sissons was there to move the discussion on to something more “relevant” Good grief, define socialism! Whatever next? They might even insist that Seear of the “Democrats” define what a democrat is and how it is such beings have “leaders” sitting in the unelected House of Lords. In fact, every time a Labour faker appears on the TV they should be asked to define what socialism is. The silence would be deafening.


Praise the buck
Meanwhile, over in the good old U.S. of A., where they have no Labour Party to pretend to be different from the Tories (there the parties have long ago abandoned such time-wasting pretences), other tricksters perpetuate other forms of fraud. When your reviewer (TV reviewer, not policy reviewer, you understand) was in the USA one of the big televangelists was a creep labelled Jim Bakker. He ran a TV show which told workers to love Jesus and send in money (plastic dosh readily accepted, God Bless You) to his Praise the Lord Ministry. Bakker was caught using the money for his own purposes: mansions, fast cars and an air-conditioned dog kennel for his pet. At the time of writing he was awaiting sentence which could be as much as 120 years in prison. Let’s hope they leave a Bible in his cell. Now that his TV trickery is off the air there are plenty more fast-buck TV preachers telling the gullible God Squad to part with their dollars. Cable TV is expanding in Britain soon. Now, if the Pope and the Archbishop of Cant can get their act together, these guys could make a killing on their own Christmas show.


Steve Coleman