Call me a saddo, but I was determined to watch George Osborne’s speech live. In the media age,this ought to have been straightforward.
I left Sheffield, where I was picking up a 50k cheque from Dransfield Properties for Leukamia Research’s Big 5-0 campaign, at eleven, with an hour to get to Leeds. I made it to the West Yorkshire Playhouse, where I was due to speak at a conference later today, with a bit of time to spare. But though we found a TV, we couldn’t find an aerial socket.
Not to worry, said the conference organiser (whose company, incidentally, is called ‘Don’t Panic’,) the local BBC studios are a few doors away. As it happens, I was due to do an interview there at some point today anyway, so we rushed over, relieved at least to know that I would be able to see Osborne live and in full glorious technicolour.
Or so I thought … nobody seemed to be watching. A presenter tried to help me by getting a TV on the wall switched to the Conference live coverage, but couldn’t get it to work. He went off to find an engineer while someone else helped me get it on a desktop. Bingo. I missed the first few minutes but I caught most of it.
But as the speech went on, I grew increasingly distracted by what was happening around me. Or at least, by something that wasn’t happening around me. Nobody else was watching.
Now I know it was a busy BBC office and doubtless all the people in there were all working on this, that and the other. But given the build up, not least on the Beeb, given the polls and the commonly expressed view that this man will be the next Chancellor, given the current debate over cuts in public spending, I was genuinely shocked that I appeared to be the only person is this news-orientated environment who was remotely interested in what he had to say.
On one level, I found the experience rather dispiriting. I always find apathy about politics dispiriting. But as a Labour man, as opposed to a politics man, I was rather cheered by it. First, it confirmed the dearth of charisma at the top of the Tory Party. Second, it confirmed me in the view that the support expressed for the Tories in polls is an expression less of interest and enthusiasm for them than in general disgruntlement about life or Labour. Third, it said to me that for all that their colleagues in the rest of the media think it is a foregone conclusion that this man is the next Chancellor – if so this was the equivalent of a shadow pre-Budget report – then they did not.
It was then fascinating to feeel the contrast between the excitement of those covering the conference inside the media bubble at Manchester with the extraordinary indifference of their colleagues in Leeds.
As for the speech, well a great orator he ain’t. He also has a very annoying habit of saying ‘wanna’, which is either slovenly or a lame attempt to get down with the yoof. Either way, he should desist. As for the content, it was more about addressing perceived weaknesses rather than confidently setting out an agenda of his own.
Cutting MPs? Easy hit. Cutting their salaries? Easy hit, and another step towards the kind of politics for toffs only that he, Dave and Boris want. Pay freeze? Appearing tough while signalling they don’t want to hurt the poorest. Yeah, like they never did that kind of thing before. Pension changes? Felt like it was unrvelling during the day. That one will be part of a big and ongoing debate. Supporting marriage in the tax system? They loved that in the hall. Keeping winter fuel payments and free TV licences for the elderly? May as well keep the party that brought them in if you ask me, Reversing the raid on pensions? Sounded like a long grass job. Claim to have earned the trust of the people on the economy? Says who George? Don’t believe everything you read in the polls.
He had a go at The Big Lie told by Labour about their desire savagely to cut public services. But he had a Big Lie of his own. Ok, not a Big Lie, a Big Joke … that the Tories are the party of the NHS. Never were, never are, never will be.