A few years ago my brother and I bought my Dad a Coldplay CD for Father’s Day. This was, may I add, my brother’s idea. The night before Father’s Day, we were sat in our front room when Chris Martin came on the telly. I can’t remember what for. Some chat show maybe, or to tell us that we were killing the planet and that he and his wife live in a house where the electrical items are powered by their own self-worth.
“I hate Chris Martin,” said Dad, “and all that terrible music he makes.”
It’s one of those moments in life where you have a crushing reality check and time stands still. You’re brain flits between numbness, gawping at the enormity of the situation, and going into desperate overdrive, grasping hopelessly for increasingly bizarre solutions. These moments have a unique beauty, in retrospect at least.
“Er, didn’t you buy one of their albums?” ventured my brother, interrupting my silent prayer to St Jude to remind me that I could always plead the ignorance and blame him. He is older, after all.
“No! I would never buy one of their albums! It’s like listening to a beige wall with pictures of Iain Duncan Smith blu-tacked on.” From there, he was off on one. There wasn’t anything positive he had to say about Coldplay. And he had a lot to say.
The next morning, he did his best to convince us that when he said he didn’t like Coldplay, he simply meant he didn’t like Chris Martin as a person. The music was, of course, perfectly acceptable. Watching him stand there trying to force a weird metonymy between Coldplay and Martin was like watching George Galloway’s infamous “indefatigable” defence in reverse. A comparison I’m sure Dad will love.
It’s an age-old style of defence in politics; one that runs in direct opposition to Denis Healey’s first rule of holes (“If you are in one, stop digging”). It is the defence of not just failing to acknowledge that you are in a hole, but denying that any such hole exists. Or claiming that you aren’t ignoring the elephant in the room, there isn’t one there, and anyway the elephant proves your point. It is a defence used on numerous occasions by our own dear Chancellor. The problem is, it just doesn’t work.
This week, there was the announcement from the Bank of England that £75billion will be pumped into quantitative easing (in non-wonk speak, just printing money basically). This puts George Osborne into a bit of a pickle, because he now has to ignore what he said two years ago. Not everything he said two years ago, but probably the bit where he said that quantitative easing is “the last resort of a desperate government when all other policies have failed”. Unless he is going to go down the brave route of saying that the current government is rubbish.
His previous experience of the ‘Dead Parrot’ defence (arguing a position in the face of all facts) comes from when he supported Labour’s spending plans until 2008 when, almost overnight, they became the reckless excesses of a bloated state, responsible for the entire financial crisis. It reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where George (sadly not the one sitting in No. 11 now) makes a big speech to everyone in his office about how much he hates his job and quits. The next day he realises what a terrible mistake he’s made and tries to go back to his desk like nothing has happened.
It’s an aversion to facts when they become politically inconvenient that we see often within politics, particularly, by its nature, in opposition politics. In opposition politics it’s all too easy to say what is popular rather that what is possible. It’s a type of politics that ensures unpopularity in office. When Thatcher invoked the Dead Parrot sketch to describe the Lib Dems, she was more right than she knew: it’s a style typified by the Liberal Democrats. Tuition fees, anyone?
Clegg & co. are already doomed. There is no hope for them now. They loved promising things they could never deliver, safe in the knowledge that they’d never be relied on to do so. Cameron and Osborne may be wishing they were less cavalier about what they said, but that won’t matter if they can get growth started.
The trick for Labour over the next four years is to score points off the Coalition without slagging off Coldplay. Just in case.