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The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Debate I

So this is my small contribution to the blogosphere babble about last night's opening round. One and a half hours went by quite quickly, though I must confess I did get a bit distracted in the middle when my nearest and dearest, sitting at my side with computer on her lap, started to talk to me about the intricacies of a particularly involved data entry task.
Discussing the debate over breakfast this morning we both were struck by how young two of the debate's particpants looked. Do I really want to be governed by somebody who looks scarcely older than my graduate students?
The media headline seems to be that Clegg 'won' by a large margin; but why should I be interested in the fact that the 'winner' was the one contestant who has no chance of winning the election? I was also wondering why Brown persisted in looking stage left at something off-shot while Clegg and Cameron always looked straight down the barrel of the camera? Was there a non functioning camera there? Hadn't anyone told him that that particular non-verbal made him look shifty and nervous?
It's easy to get sniffy about the political theatre of elections or pretend that in the past things were more cerebral. In the 18th Century the hustings in my own home town of Coventry were frequently little more than a carnival of drunken riot and I don't suppose everyone who attended one of Gladstone's 5 hour Midlothian speeches was dissecting the logic of every sentence. These kind of events are and have always been partly show-biz.
I first voted in the 1979 election. During the campaign I obtained tickets for myself and a few mates from a Labour councillor who lived across the street to get into Jim Callaghan's speech at Coventry's Methodist Central Hall. It was the days of the kind of left politics that eventually led to Labour's wilderness years. There was considerable fear that the speech would be disrupted by Militant or suchlike. I guess I was young and naive and had bought a copy of one of the many far-left "newspapers" being sold outside. So in I went openly clutching this inflamatory organ and not appreciating at the time the significance of the look of horror on the face of my kindly benefactor who was serving as a steward at the entrance.
The speech was interrupted briefly - though not by me - but the only other thing I can remember of it was the feeling of being in the presence of something important. Callaghan was charismatic and I watched spellbound. He looked, if not exactly a movie star, like a very distinguished elder statesman. In fact it was the first time that I noticed that major politicians on duty look different from ordinary people. Their clothes are better cut, they carry themselves better and most important, they are made up for the cameras. When I got home my Mum told me that she had seen me in an audience shot shown on The News at Ten.
When Callaghan lost the election I was crestfallen: it was the end of political innocence. I already knew that nothing in British politics would be the same again but I didn't forsee quite how devastating the consequences would be. I was about to go to university. Within 2 years Coventry was the Ghost Town and many of my ex schoolmates were signing on. I never went back.

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