Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Why Glove Puppets Shouldn't Be in the Cabinet

George Monbiot strikes back at Hazel Blears today, having been labelled as cynical and corrosive by her last week. It’s a pretty effective demolition job from my point of view, but normally I’m not very keen on commenting on such spats even where I clearly agree with one side or the other. It all seems a bit superfluous unless you've been given the gift of high octane invective like the Flying Rodent.

But this spat has reminded me of the sheer unpopularity of Hazel Blears and made me wonder why. CIF has a kind of approval rating system whereby readers can indicate their agreement with or appreciation of any particular comment on an article. "I tend to think more along the lines of:"Hazel, why don't you fuck off."" has attracted 242 such recommendations at the time of writing*.

& even in the high-minded McMenamin household Mrs. M & I, fuelled by the couple of glasses of wine we’ve normally consumed by the time she pops up on Newsnight, have evolved a theory that she is not really a human being, but a glove puppet worked in some mysterious, invisible way by Peter Mandelson. Think about it: that relentlessly on message chirruping; that bouncy, panglossian attitude to all the government's actions; that cheap, superficial populism. Then ask yourself - have you ever seen Ms. Blears and Sooty's girlfriend Sue in the same room together?

But this is, of course, wildly unfair and perhaps even a little sexist. Blears is the lightening rod for a wider political problem this government faces, which is the country is really quite tired of them. Their faces are over familiar, their cadences on the Today programme tend to produce a weary sense of ‘we’ve heard all this before’. Perhaps most governments end like this, in a combination of internal exhaustion from Ministerial overwork and external familiarity breeding contempt. But it's not quite over yet: there is no real sign that the Conservatives, despite their poll lead, have got any better idea what to do.

Because the key thing to note is that we are not in 'normal times'. Not all governments end in the midst of a global banking crisis. Not all governments end after a Minksy moment when the rules of the game change. Brown and Darling are desperately trying to grapple with what looks to be a new world where the foundation stones of New Labour thinking about 'free markets' appear to be dissolving in front of their eyes. Mandelson himself - New Labour's high priest - appears bright enough to re-group around a right- social democratic dirgisime agenda in response to this crisis.

His epigones, like Blears, do not. So neither the country nor New Labour can afford to keep them in the front rank of politics. Because they are now politicians from another era and people despise them for it.

*The comment got deleted by the moderators. I can see why - but doesn't this make the level of agreement seem even more impressive given the short time it was up.

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