One is inclined to think that we live in what the Chinese proverb calls ‘interesting times’. This thought came almost unbidden as I watched this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions when I found myself being nagged by a recollection of what McBlackadder looks like when at the Despatch Box for his weekly torture session.
It came to me near the end of his half-hour upon the stage: for what he resembles is no more and no less than one of those deeply sad Dancing Bears that once were found in England and now have been eliminated such that they may now only be found in the eastern extremities of Europe and India. There he stands angrily swiping at his tormenters upon whom he would dearly love to land the ‘great clunking fist’, turning first to this one then to that as he snarls and slavers in his pain. But his tormenters nimbly dance aside and he is goaded to yet more fury. I cannot think of any of our Prime Ministers of the television age who has presented such a sorry and sad picture in the weekly bear-pit that is PMQs. When not speaking he glowers and sulks, his head moving about the Chamber as he seeks out the source of the next outrage he perceives is being committed upon him. He mouths what one suspects are silent profanities that dwell upon some supposed weakness or personal flaw of his enemy. It is possible to see in his self-exhibition many of the character defects of which those who have had the chance to observe him at close quarters have spoken or written. In short, he is really quite scary. I have been trying to make my mind up if this shambles over the two data discs which have gone walkabout is a sea-change moment or not. I am going to stick my neck out now and assert that it is. Indeed I am going to go further and wonder if McBlackadder will still be leader of his party and Prime Minister at the next election. It comes to this: the public will, often quite grudgingly, put up with high levels of taxation for a while. If they see or believe they will see value for money and significant improvement at the end of the road, then, though they may grumble, they will tolerate such taxation for some time. But that is money that is gone and done for. Mess with that what is left to him to feed, house and clothe his family, then you cross a line beyond which you should never go. In allowing the escape of information which could be used by criminals to access just those reserves, then you make your average Brit, who is by and large slow to anger, very very annoyed indeed. This McBlackadder and McBaldrick have managed to achieve (and, whether it is unfair or not, they are the ones blamed by the people) in one humungous blow, threatening the wherewithal of seven and a half million families, 25 million people in all. That is an awful lot of people to upset very badly in one fell swoop. That it has upset people and left them thinking of Labour as a bunch of utterly incompetent nincompoops is evident from every ‘Comment’ column on the web you care to visit. Everyone of them has an overwhelming mass of very negative and often angry comment, full of scorn and contempt for the whole rotten shower that now has the neck to call itself a government. Only one or two of them express anything which might be thought of as support or sympathy. In short Britons have woken up to the fact that Labour are, to put it crudely and bluntly (and I apologise not for the language), a bunch of useless tossers. Where once we were minded to give the benefit of the doubt, we are no longer prepared so to do. As each day brings yet another piece of evidence to demonstrate their incompetence, people sit there open-mouthed that they have the effrontery to claim they are ‘dealing’ with whatever the latest foul-up is, that yet another ‘review’ is to take place (everyone now understands that to mean ‘kick into the long grass’), that lessons will be learnt and that such and such a nincompoop is a fit and proper person to clear up the mess he or she has created. It just won’t wash any more. On Tuesday I watched McBlackadder as he watched McBaldrick stumble through, in his quavering castrato voice, the catalogue of sheer ineptitude that is the data loss scandal. It has taken me a couple of days to work out what the look on his face said. Now I believe it was the hollow gaunt face of a ‘dead man walking’, one who knows that the game is up. As it surely is.