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The strange death of the political spectacle.


ONE OF THE surprising things that has happened to contemporary British politics is the disappearance of any understanding (or practice of) positive public presentation: PR, as we used to know it, when big hitters like the Conservatives and Labour spent millions on publicity gurus to make them look good to the public. They all seem to have forgotten the old adage that appearance is 90% of politics.

Just look at the leaders of both major parties. You can imagine Corbyn being bullied like a schoolboy by his mother into “dressing properly” and donning his dad’s suit and putting on a tie with such deliberate slovenliness he rivals any cartoon character from the Molesworth books. As for what he dresses like when he’s in mufti, as it were, we’ve already seen what a dire mess that is — awful shorts, socks, trainers, tops and shell suits. Everything about his attire and demeanour shouts, “I’m a free individual, not one of your bourgeois, conformist types, man. I just wanna be me.”

As for Theresa May, she has the misfortune of bad posture and terrible PR advisors – in fact, they ought to be called anti-PR advisors, they’re so incompetent. Her fashion sense belongs to a category of its own, varying from the traditionally smart to the wildly and inappropriately colourful and the downright bizarre (remember her spacewoman outfit?). With her thin legs, stooping posture and beaky face she resembles an over decorated heron, poor woman. I know she’s probably very determined to wear what she wants (strong woman, knows her own mind, all that stuff) but someone ought to have a word with her to explain that looking the part does actually count.

We can expect Corbyn to dress like a third rate, antediluvian, armchair revolutionary because that  is what he is. But in truth it ought to be very easy for him as a man to dress smartly, since all he needs do is acquire a simple wardrobe of sober suits, ties and shoes. It’s an odd situation when you consider his 1980s forerunners, such as Derek Hatton and the rest of the Militant Tendency, who dressed in expensive suits to present themselves as Executives of the Revolution and not just a crowd of scruffy Trots. How times have changed.

This lack of appreciation of PR goes deeper than just appearance. Apart from the Corbynista’s unimaginative regurgitation of ancient agitprop there is hardly anything that would pass for political discourse in the country. Some of us who are old enough to remember what a Labour government of the ilk now being touted with such dishonest vigour to the young and uninformed is like, and don’t need to be informed of their policies. Those who are too young should be given a crash course in the inevitable and disastrous consequences of socialist economics, and the Tories should be the ones delivering this lesson. Unfortunately this is beyond them.

May comes across more and more as a wet Heathite, only travelling away from the EU instead of towards it.

As for the Tories, what their real policies are is a mystery. Every now and then Mrs May or some nonentity pops up to mumble something about marriage equality, pay caps or extremism. Not only is there no consistency or strength of belief evident in what they say, there’s no evidence of a firm set of conservative principles in their thinking. Instead of repeatedly making the case for small government, free markets, enterprise and individual responsibility and self-reliance they have adopted a wishy-washy, leftist Toryism: blue rinse one side of the head, pink on the other. May comes across more and more as a wet Heathite, only travelling away from the EU instead of towards it.

This ideological flaccidity reveals itself, as I said, in the startling absence of any robust presentation. Do the Tories not realise they need top class PR? Have they got no one who understands this? Why has no one worked out a digital and social media strategy for them to reach the electorate directly and outside the mainstream media? Are they so wrapped up in their own bickering coteries that they do not perceive the impression the public receives of them? Have they forgotten how the media leap forward to fill the political void with disinformation and mischief?

At the election they should have ground Corbyn and his pathetic, innumerate apparatchiks into moondust but they delivered such a lustreless, emotion-shrivelling campaign they nearly lost it all. And this is what we are left with: two hopeless, burnt-out political parties, one of which can see no way forward except for returning, to adapt the biblical phrase, like a dog to the vomit of its past; the other staggering through the modern landscape with an ancient, fading map.

suxcoverCurrente Calamo columnist, poet, writer and lecturer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire . From 2005–2008 he was the Royal Literary Fund fellow at the University of Lincoln where he now teaches English Literature and Creative Writing. His poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent collection is Spyglass Over The Lagoon. A selection of his Fortnightly Currente Calamo columns, Sucks To Your Revolution: Annoying The Politically Correct (US), is available as a Kindle ebook.

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