OPINION: An Elephant’s Voice

Millennium Elephant, a 2006 finalist in Lib Dem Blogger of the Year, has written exclusively for Lib Dem Voice on the state of politics today.

Hello! That nice Mr Lord Deputy Lord Mayor Lord Stephen has asked me to write a special diary for his august organ. This is a PUN… because it is AUGUST!

I think that I should begin by explaining, for any readers who have not already read my famous Fluffy Diary. My name is Millennium Dome and I live in the East End of London. Obviously, I am a white elephant. I am seven years old [actually six years old] because I am the same age as the Millennium [you see where the confusion comes from?]!

Mr Lord Deputy Stephen has asked me to explain to him about POLITICS, and I can understand why he is confused! It is VERY complicated!

There are THREE HUNDRED and EIGHTY-FIVE political parties in Great Britain (at least according to the list at the Electoral Commission) but thanks to the way that the voting system works, there are only THREE that really stand a chance of having enough votes to make a difference.

(Although in Scotland and in Wales where they have a more PROPORTIONATE system, then you can get four or five party politics working; while in Northern Ireland they have completely different parties.)

Anyway, the three parties that I am going to explain are called the Conservatories, the Labour and the Liberal Democrats!

(My favourite things are CARS and DVDs and JAMES BOND… but thanks to my daddies I am also pretty fond of the Liberal Democrats, so this means I might be a bit BIASED when I am telling you how RUBBISH the Labour and the Conservatories are.)

The party with the most votes at the last General Election and (almost but not entirely coincidentally) the most seats in Parliament is the Labour. This means that they get to decide who runs everything in Britain and can choose who gets to be the person in overall charge called the Prime Monster. Our current Prime Monster, therefore, is Mr Gordon Frown.

Mr Frown is, to the surprise of almost everybody, a LAUGHING and JOKING fellow. Completely different to the man who sulked for a decade during the reign of his predecessor, Lord Blairimort, he has – so far – proved to be quite good at his job. In fact, Mr Frown is living a CHARMED LIFE at the moment. Not only is his party soaring in the opinion polls, he is getting a huge rating in the “best man in a crisis” stakes. Which is handy, because he’s having to deal with several crises at once.

In the Observer, Mr Andrew Rawnsley commented on the remark of former Prime Monster Mr Earl MacMillion “Events dear boy events”. Mr Rawnsley said that it is not the events themselves but how the Prime Monster rises to them that affect him. Of course, this is not right. What Mr MacMillion was saying was that when you are in government, as time goes by, there will always be more and more events that happen and you will take the BLAME for them whether they are your fault or not. This means that people’s opinion of you will always go DOWN.

So it will be for Mr Frown too. But the events that he has had to deal with so far – exploding terrorists, flooded home counties, and mouth-frothing cows – are all generally seen as being the fault of not him but his predecessor, and it seems that he has wisely done the things that people want and expect him to do. Cancelling his holiday in Dorset to return to London, for example, may not have made a JOT of difference to the handling of the Foot in Mouth crisis, but it was the right GESTURE, in exactly the way that flying to Rwanda while his own constituency was under water was exactly the wrong gesture for the leader of the opposition to make.

The Conservatories try to dismiss the Labour’s current poll success as a “Frown Flounce”, as if to suggest that it will wear off as Mr Frown’s reputation becomes tarnished. But I think that there is a much BIGGER factor involved – the Labour’s support is UP not because Mr Frown is IN but because Lord Blairimort is OUT. People are simply so SURPRISED and HAPPY that the war-mongering messianic monomaniac is finally gone that they are willing to give the Labour the benefit of the doubt all over again, just like in 1997.

Of course, the most surprised and happy person of all is Mr Frown himself, and that is probably another reason why he is doing well. It is SUCH a weight off his mind!

Mind you, he has also been very effective in SEIZING the agenda, in particular the MEDIA’s agenda. His offer of jobs to people outside the Labour, it cannot be denied, was a bold stroke that caught the imagination of the press and made them sit up and take notice. Since then, he has used his “unspun” persona to spin them like a maestro. His recent visit to America was a MASTER STROKE – standing next to the American President looking like he would rather be anywhere else in the world was absolute GENIUS.

The MOST extraordinary thing really is that this seems to have caught the Conservatories so completely unprepared. It is not like they haven’t been having the stuffing knocked out of young Master Gideon at Treasury Questions for a year as a WARNING of what might happen when you put up a young whippersnapper against Mr Frown. Although, Master Gideon is such a DUFFER that perhaps they just thought that it was down to him.

The question on everyone’s lips is…

Well, no, the question that’s REALLY on everyone’s lips is “how long will summer last?” (answer Thursday, maybe Friday) but I am writing about political anoraks.

So, the question on everyone’s lips is: “will Mr Frown call a general election this year?”

This is VERY DIFFICULT to tell.

Everything about Mr Frown’s personality screams CAUTION. He could have forced Lord Blairimort out YEARS AGO, but instead he was cautious and bided his time. He could have faced an election of the whole Labour membership, but instead he was cautious and had the MPs lock out any other challenger. So why would anyone assume that he is going to do anything other than be Prime Monster for until the last possible minute in 2010?

EXCEPT he is ALSO doing absolutely all the things that you would expect him to do if he were going to call a SNAP general election. The first clue was the 2p tax cut in the Budget. Okay, so even if Mr Balloon for the Conservatories welcomed it we Liberal Democrats and after us pretty much everyone else spotted that actually it was paid for by savaging the less well off. But 2p off the basic rate was still exactly what anyone preparing for a General Election would want to begin with.

Bear in mind though, that the tax changes do not come in until next year… but Mr Frown could be aiming at May or June 2008 – in which case he has another budget to fix any, er, misunderstandings about stinging the poor. May, of course, also sees the London Mayoral elections. Could it be than Mr Frown is expecting the Conservatories to get another drubbing from Mr Mayor Ken? (Does anyone really think that Mr Bonkers Boris’s disguise as an affable idiot will be any match for Mr Ken’s ruthless campaigning machine?) In which case, Mr Frown could call a General Election in June just as they are dispirited and the public are thinking of them as LOSERS again.

The main BARRIER to Mr Frown seeking his own mandate, though, is MONEY. The Labour and the Conservatories both very nearly went BANKRUPT after the last general election (I mean financially, not morally – it is FAR TOO LATE for that!), but the Conservatories have since managed to refloat their boat. This was partly through a surge in donations when their shiny new leader actually looked shiny and new, and partly through a property deal that saw them raise thirty million pounds by selling their ten-million pound central London headquarters. (No, I don’t know how they could value the building in their accounts at ten million quid and then get thirty million pounds for it either.) The Labour, on the other fluffy foot, had less luck, what with them being caught arranging some VERY DODGY loans from some people who – it turns out – ENTIRELY COINCIDENTALLY then received peerages. Funnily enough, this source of funding seems to have dried up, leaving them a bit short of the readies. Many think that this leaves them with only three options: discovering a lost wreck full of Spanish DOUBLOONS; doing a deal with Ernst Stavro Blofeld of SPECTRE to swap a couple of atom bombs for half the blackmail proceeds; or going cap in hand to the unions.

But things CHANGE. With their surge in the polls, suddenly a lot of people in industry are probably thinking that some judicious bribes donations to the party in (and likely to STAY in) power might be TIMELY. So check out the next quarterly financial statements, particularly for the Labour and look out for a sudden inrush of liquid funds.

Not any of this is good news for the leader of the Conservatories: Mr Balloon who likes to be known as “Dave” and prefers not to be called “that sad loser from Eton”.

In the aftermath of the Conservatories coming third in both Sedgefield AND Ealing Southall, coupled with their plummet in the polls and a string of internal critics starting to carp and backbite, newspapers are starting to ask the question: “is Mr Balloon still a winner?”

The PROBLEM with this question is that if it is asked AT ALL then the answer is implicitly “NO!”

Being a winner involves an unquestioned assumption of infallibility. No one can see the feet of clay; it is important that no one observes that the Emperor’s new clothes are not actually there. Once someone has pointed it out, then it is a bit difficult not to appear NAKED.

Not that Mr Balloon hasn’t ALWAYS seemed a bit SANS GARMENTS, at least in the area of policy. And while this has for a long time been his biggest ASSET – yes, asset, because if he didn’t have any policies, then he didn’t have CONSERVATORY policies that would make people hate him! – while this has been his biggest asset, it has also always been his biggest problem. Because sooner or later he was always going to have to GET SOME.

Mr John Selwyn Gumboot wrote to the Telegraph this month about why the Conservatories should hold their nerve and stick with Mr Balloon. It was quite a bad sign that he even felt that he had to. Ditching their leader would be such a CRIPPLINGLY INSANE thing to do that it really ought to be physically impossible for anyone in or out of the Conservatories to even THINK of doing it, much less write a headline about why it might be a bad idea. The fact that it is even possible to conceive of such an act shows just how far the Conservatories have fallen, and how very, very far they have to climb back up again. If, that is, they actually can.

But what Mr Gumboot wrote was that Conservatories should take heart because actually Mr Balloon was doing very well indeed, and that his project of change was vital if they were to be elected next time. Comparing Mr Balloon’s efforts to the “project” that transformed the Labour in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Mr Gumboot said how much EASIER it was for the Conservatories because “the Labour had to change their entire essence; we merely have to change perception”.

This, in a sentence, summarises the WHOLE of the Conservatories problem. They think that they can sell us the same old sh… stuff, just give it a fresh fragrance.

It is essentially the same as in 1998 when Mr Michael Port-a-loo said “we had the appearance of arrogance” – you DON’T have the APPEARANCE of arrogance; you ARE arrogant! (To be fair to Mr Port-a-loo he may have realised that and been trying to sell the idea to the Conservatories rather than the rest of us, but still…)

Nothing could be further from the truth. It is PRECISELY because the public are starting to think that he doesn’t really MEAN it that the shine has come off of Mr Balloon.

While he seems to have got away with flip-flopping on I.D.iot cards, rights for gay daddies and detention without trial, the VERY PUBLIC U-turn on Grandma Schools – “no we won’t build any more… er, all right, unless we will” – has rather blown the gaff. Now giving in to right wing Mr John Deadwood and promising £14 billion in “tax cuts” (after promising that he WOULDN’T promise tax cuts) just looks like CAPITULATION to the Tombstone Tories’ agenda.

To paraphrase old Queen Maggie (and indeed plagiarise Private Eye):

“U-turn if you want to; the laddie IS for turning!”

Or indeed to remember that OTHER great Conservatory leader, Mr FRANCIS URQUHART:

“His highest ambition was to be LIKED; an admirable trait… in a SPANIEL…”

It seems almost overnight that Mr Balloon has become a COMICAL figure of PITY. Even Mr Richard Stillgoe – or to give him his full name Mr Richard Stillgoing – guesting on Radio Four’s up-to-the-decade topical “The Now Show”, is writing songs about “It’s no fun being Dave” (rhyming with “when your predecessor may rise from the grave”!)

People cannot see you as a FIGURE of FUN and as potential Prime Monster material. This was the fate of DOOMED leader of the Labour Mr Neil Kinnock-knock: people thought that HE was a JOKE too.

But it is not necessarily right to say that Mr Balloon is the Conservatories’ Mr Kinnock-knock. Dr Who the Eighth loves that humans are “always spotting patterns that aren’t there”. And my mate Mr Professor Richard Dawkins warns of this superstitious behaviour – people want to tell a story and impose a pattern. But there’s no reason for history to repeat itself exactly.

In fact, Mr Balloon might be lucky not to be the Conservatories’ Herbert the Viscount Samuel, the Liberal leader who succeeded Mr Lloyd George and Mr Squiffy Asquith and saw the Liberals losing all but 20 seats in Parliament, including losing his own. (Then the Conservatories would need a Viscount Thurso to find a way of saving the last of them… but it is TOO LATE! We have him!)

Although the newspapers may have painted Mr Kinnock-knock as a buffoon, during his time as leader the Labour began the difficult process of DYING to be replaced by the NuLabour zombie that Lord Blairimort succeeded in raising from the DEAD.

As Mr Gumboot’s article in the Telegraph all too clearly reveals, the Conservatories show NO SIGN of undertaking a similar TRANSFORMATION. Mr Balloon sent out his policy reviews to try and find new policies that people would actually vote for. But since he put people like Mr Iain Drunken-Swerve and Mr John Deadwood in charge it should not come as any great surprise that they have come back with the SAME OLD POLICIES saying “no, these were very nice last time and they’ll do very nicely again”.

During the early part of the 1980s the Labour’s policies went BANANAS due to the far left taking control of the party, and they did not begin to recover until the left were ejected by the centre. The Conservatories LEARNED from this – that is why THEIR lunatics on the far RIGHT made sure that they EXTERMINATED the centre-right of the Conservatory Party first!

So even if Mr Balloon somehow manages to pull his party back together again after their Humpty-Dumpty summer, the blow that Mr Frown has landed upon the Conservatories is probably far MORE serious than a temporary surge in the polls. It may even be fatal.

What happens to the Conservatories after the next General Election?

Funnily enough, win or lose it will be much the same: under Mr Balloon’s leadership they will be shown to be a HOLLOW force, reactionary and backward-looking. In government they would be battered by events as they try to wage a futile war against Europe; in opposition they will tear themselves to pieces.

So sooner or later – and quite probably sooner – people are going to realise that the way to oppose a centrist, authoritarian, nanny-knows-best Labour Party is NOT with a centrist, authoritarian, nanny-knows-best Conservatory Party but with Liberal policies from a Liberal Party. Which brings us to the Liberal Democrats.

A lot of people seen to be under the MISAPPREHENSION that we blew our best chance in ages in 2005 when we failed to make substantial advances, much less overtake the Conservatories. But that is NOT TRUE, for so long as we remain forward-looking, our best chance is ALWAYS the next one!

Perhaps the appearance of Mr Balloon was FRIGHTENING to some Liberals because while he was quite obviously a recently re-sprayed right-wing Thatch-o-crat he looked like a HORRIBLY ELECTABLE one. Fresh-faced, sharp-suited and loved by the media, he immediately appeared to threaten to undermine the URGENT NEED for a Liberal opposition by hugging huskies and talking up a Caring Conservatory agenda.

What nobody seemed to recognise was that Mr Balloon was not the Conservatories’ BEST hope; he was their LAST hope. If this does not work, they have NO MORE bolts in their armoury; their cupboard (like their Emperor) is BARE.

The Liberal Democrats on the other hand are only just getting into our stride.

As party leader, Mr Sir Ming the Merciless has gathered a strong team, any one of whom is more than a match for some grey-faced Conservatory or remote-controlled NuLabour Robot.

The key issues facing us now are the economy, the environment and the threat of terror. And the Liberal Democrats HAVE the POLICIES to address these issues. On the economy, Mr Power Cable and Mr David “he is the” Laws have made us the party of cutting taxes, making them fairer, and launching an assault on poverty. On the environment we have led the way: our spokesperson Mr Hewn knows more about the environment than all the huskies that Mr Balloon has ever hugged! And on the security, we realise that Civil Liberties are what makes us STRONG against the terrorists, not what make us weak! Mr Nick Clogg continues to hold the line against detention without trial, the sinister expansion of the DNA database and the expensive waste of money that is the I.D.iot card scheme.

But that’s not all: we are also the party that fights hardest against corruption, thanks to the likes of TERRIER-LIKE Mr Norman the Baker and his tireless use of the Freedom of Information Act. We are the party that wants to fulfil our obligations to the rest of the world – just ask Ms Lynne Featherweight about our International Development aims. And we are the party that wants to REFORM the European Union, not REJECT it. Can the Labour or the Conservatories make such claims? I think not.

Sir Mr the Merciless will lead us into the next General Election. I expect he will not want to lead us into the one after that, so he will probably then say that it is time for the next generation to take over. And unlike the Conservatories, we HAVE another generation ready and eager to continue the work. And unlike the Labour, our next generation are not all ROBOTS.

We may SEEM to be a long way behind in the polls at the moment – as nervous Conservatories will doubtless jeeringly remind us – but I think that when Mr Frown’s Flounce starts to wear off, those voters will not be returning to the Conservatories. The Conservatories are back where they started from. Again. And with more and more “back to the future” policy reviews coming out with “seen it all before” policies, I think that they will be staying there. But the voters are likely to come looking for a real alternative. That is when our poll ratings will start to improve.

We may very well have a general election by then – if Mr Frown DOES decide to abandon caution before his Flounce runs out. If so it will be a TOUGH fight for us, but I think I would not be surprised to see an outcome quite similar to the 2005 election, a result that would ironically STRENGTHEN us while seeing the Conservatories DESTROYED.

So do not be complacent but do not be downhearted. The tide of Great British Liberalism is on its way back in, wave by little wave. Remember our slogan: “Vote Early, Vote Elephant!” and may the Focus be with you all.

Love from
Millennium

(Read my Diary!)

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