The Gospel According to St Tony
There must be an age-old adage in the comedy profession—satire will never die so long as we’ve got politicians. If the last Tory administration provided more grist to the satirical mill than anyone thought possible, New Labour is fast emerging as a more than worthy substitute for it. It was surprising then that last month one of Britain’s most gifted satirists, Harry Enfield, should have chosen the Conservative Party for his most recent attack on Britain’s most disreputable profession.
Norman Ormal was a composite money-grubbing, greasy-pole climbing Tory MP surrounded by a menagerie of fellow low-lifes, also played by Enfield. The character based on Alan Clark was toe-curlingly gruesome, and thereby eminently lifelike. But there seemed little point in such a programme beyond showcasing Enfield’s mimicry skills. There is, to gloriously mix metaphors, no point in flogging a dead parrot.
Rather more promising is Enfield’s part in the televising of Private Eye’s St Albion’s Parish News, its excoriation of the evangelical wing of New Labour, replete with Tony Blair as vicar. There is something slightly disturbing about Blair, and Private Eye have probably got nearer to identifying it than anyone else. He is just too nice. Not in an abstract sense (nobody can really be too nice), but too nice given his dubious “values” and incredible manipulation skills. The “nice” public image clearly doesn’t marry with the other elements of his persona. Someone who genuinely smiles and gleams and brings light into the eyes of pensioners when he goes on a town centre walkabout doesn’t then turn round and cut single mothers’ benefit. Someone who can speak so movingly about peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland doesn’t then agree to send British planes over to the Gulf to bomb the living daylights out of tens of thousands of Iraqi men, women and children—at least not usually if they are genuine. But then again, religion can play funny tricks on the mind.
Roaring with Rory
The hardest-hitting satirical show on TV is still fronted by Rory Bremner (C4, Sundays), and thankfully he has not been tempted to spare New Labour’s blushes. Rory Bremner has a talent most of us can only wish for, and he hasn’t misused it. Exposing the last bunch of Tory slimeballs and greasers must have been a pleasure for him.
The previous occasion this column mentioned Rory Bremner it was to express the wish that his programme wouldn’t soft-pedal on New Labour. It hasn’t. Bremner too has captured the phoney-Tony evangelical spirit of the Prime Minister. And the double-standards that go along with it. And while his impressions and caricatures provide a wonderful lampoon of the virtual reality world which is New Labour, John Bird and John Fortune have stuck to their task of ripping apart the hypocrisy that lies at the very heart of this project, of exposing the people with a Mission and with Vision whose only mission is to keep themselves in the luxury to which they are now accustomed and whose vision is distorted by a crazy virtual-reality headset called “the market”. Bird and Fortune make stark for all to see what was once the preserve of socialists—there is no fundamental difference between the Conservative and Labour parties. Indeed, there is little if anything between them taking into account the factors they themselves think are important and distinguishing. Nothing could have illustrated this more than the sight of a Labour minister explaining why the government is thinking of putting the Royal Flight—which carries ministers, the royals and other dignitaries across the globe—out to private tender. And then for Francis Maude, Tory Shadow Chancellor, to appear on the TV news denouncing it as a disgraceful waste of a national asset. Virtual reality headsets—you got ’em!
Speaking of which the most marvellous moment of all on Rory Bremner each week is the appearance of the virtual reality Peter Mandelson, replete with 1940s’ BBC radio announcer voice. Catch it if you can. The scariest thing, though, is that somehow it seems more genuine, and somehow human, than the real thing.