I WAS at a party and had had a couple of drinks and decided that it was a good time to regale my companions with the story of a rodent infestation with which I had had to deal when I was 16 years old.
Some people sing when they are merry, other people get into brawls. I tell stories about being inconvenienced by vermin to people who wish they were somewhere else.
I will not get into the story at this stage, as I am sober and you do not need to hear about it.
But while I was telling the tale to my appalled companions, the name Rentokil cropped up, and for the first time in my life it occurred to me how “on the nose” that name is.
If I were in the business of vermin mass murder, I would name my company “Removapest” or “Troublaway”, just to make the act sound more palatable. Even Mafiosi talk about “taking out” or “knocking off” opponents.
But there is no being circumspect with Rentokil, there is no gloss, there is no “the rats went to live on a farm” with Rentokil. You know exactly what Rentokil is selling. Or renting.
And yet, as on the nose as Rentokil is, it is like a cryptic crossword clue in comparison with InjuryLawyers4U.
You might expect that you would not need to be told in which line of business InjuryLawyers4U operates, but life is apparently not that simple.
So I have become a little obsessed with the InjuryLawyers4U advert which appears on daytime television. I am going to do you the courtesy of assuming that you never watch daytime television and describe what happens in this advertisement.
It starts with an arty shot of a man with his head in his hands. “You’ve had an accident that wasn’t your fault,” the narrator says. Hmm, you will think when you see him, that man looks guilty. I bet the accident was his fault.
“You need help and you want legal advice. You don’t want social media experts,” the narrator says, as some scary clowns bang on a window behind Guilto The Definitely Responsible For That Accident.
Of course I don’t want social media experts, you will think. Nobody in the history of the world has ever thought, “I need legal advice, I’d better call a social media expert.” Why are you even bringing them up, narrator?
“You don’t want cold callers.” Wait a minute, you will think at this point. That’s exactly what I want. If I had had an accident that wasn’t my fault, and I received a phone call from one of those people who ring when you’re about to have your tea to discuss the “accident” I have had recently, that would be literally the only time I would welcome a cold caller. It would save me the price of a phone call.
But the narrator has already moved on. “You don’t need celebrity endorsements,” he says, pointlessly, as a crowd of business suited people who, quite frankly, look exactly like personal injury lawyers join the clowns in bashing the windows.
“You need,” the narrator goes on, “an injury lawyer for you. That’s why we’re called InjuryLawyers4U.” And suddenly the scales fall from your eyes.
Ah, you think, now I understand. Before now I would have assumed a firm called InjuryLawyers4U would specialise in painting and decorating, or quantity surveying, or Zumba.
But now, thanks to this advertisement, I get it. It’s such a clever name. Thank you for explaining to me, an imbecile, so clearly why you would be called InjuryLawyers4U.
At this point, you are probably thinking that I am being sarcastic. And you would be correct.
I do not mind an “on the nose” name. Phones4U, Bargain Booze, Kentucky Fried Chicken – they are all acceptable names for businesses. And when you advertise them, feel free to tell me how good your phones are, how cheap your Lambrini is, or how happy your chickens were before you popped them in batter and deep-fried them.
But what you don’t have to do is spend three-quarters of your advert explaining what your name means.
Because the only people who see the name “InjuryLawyers4U” and have no idea what that might mean are the sort of people who were definitely responsible for the accident in which they were involved, because they are incredibly stupid.
But not as stupid as somebody who tells strangers at a party about finding a decomposing rat under his floorboards.
THE moment Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader of the Labour Party for the first time I was writing in the library. I doubt there was a person in there who didn’t hear my anguished cry.
I immediately wrote an intemperate tweet which suggested that perhaps the people who had voted for him might eventually come to regret their choice, and eventually took it down because I had called people I like and respect “gobshites”.
I am not going to say that everything I predicted was correct. I suspected that Corbyn’s old-time religion would pile up votes in Labour strongholds while putting off voters in swing areas. I was wrong. Mea culpa. I vastly overestimated his appeal.
Now I absolutely get why Corbyn appealed to Labour Party members and the three-quid recreational leftwingers. Labour had just lost an election which it was expected to win, like in 1992, and supporters were upset.
“We’ve already had to put up with Miliband saying he’d keep half an eye on immigration,” they said, “and now this?! You’re expecting us to vote for somebody like Yvette Cooper? Or Liz Kendall?!”
And then Corbyn came along, with those soothing words that told you what you wanted to hear: “It’s not you that’s wrong, it’s the electorate. Let’s not bother convincing those Tory voters, let’s just enthuse the non-voters and build a bright, etc, etc.”
No wonder you voted for him. Losing an election is tough. Being told that the reason you lost it is because you didn’t work hard enough to accommodate people to the right of your party is even tougher.
No wonder you took the easy way out. And then you justified it by saying that people have had enough of “moderates”. That’s the message you were getting from the electorate, oh yes.
You heard that message in 2010 when Brown was turfed out of office, and you heard it again in 2015 when that notorious Blairite Ed Miliband was defeated at the polls.
But it’s absolute nonsense, isn’t it?
Brown lost in 2010 because Labour had been in office for 13 years, and he was at the wheel when the economy crashed. It doesn’t matter how well he and Alistair Darling did to pull the country back out of recession, or how influential he was in saving the world economy.
Nor does it matter that the crash was caused by the collapsing loans market in the United States, and not because Labour spent some money on fixing school roofs. The fact is he was in charge, so he got a pasting.
Even so, if the Tories had been led by Michael Howard or Ian Duncan Smith in 2010, Brown would probably have beaten them. But they were led by “a moderate” who had spent three years reassuring the electorate that he was a safe option.
Yes, in power David Cameron presided over a dreadful right-wing shambles of austerity and bedroom tax and Brexit, but he had a plausible manner. He spoke like a centrist. “I’m not one of those old-style Thatcherite hang ’em and flog ’em Tories”, he said to the electorate, “I hug hoodies and huskies and I like The Jam and don’t mind the gays.”
Unfortunately, after the 2010 election, the Labour selectorate learnt the wrong lesson. Did they pick the wrong Miliband brother? I don’t know if it’s that simple…
But what they did do was pick the most left-wing candidate on offer who wasn’t a black woman. They picked the candidate most likely to spend the next five years saying how dreadful the previous Labour administration had been. And who wasn’t a black woman.
And in 2015, what happened? The Lib Dems collapsed, mostly because the Labour voters who had defected to them because of Iraq and tuition fees wanted to punish them for entering into coalition with the Tories, and the Lib Dem/Tory floating voters were sufficiently reassured by Cameron’s government to decide they did not need Clegg’s restraining hand.
It wasn’t because of a collapse in support for centrist politics. Cameron still painted himself as centrist. He did quite well out of it.
Miliband tried to paint himself as centrist to the broader electorate, and radical to Labour members, which was a difficult trick to pull off and one which he failed to do. But that was not the problem he had.
People decided early on in his leadership that he was not prime ministerial material, just as they had with William Hague, Ian Duncan Smith, and Michael Howard.
And Scotland went full centrist. The SNP is completely Blairite, apart from the constitutional issue, and its position on Trident, which is bound up with the constitutional issue.
The point is, centrism and moderation are not the problem here. It’s about credibility.
So when Corbyn came along in 2015 saying all the things you wanted to hear, and you convinced yourself that the problem with Ed Miliband was that he was too right-wing, and that’s why people went for the Tories, you were wrong. You were so wrong. You were 20-points-behind-in-the-polls-a-month-before-a-general-election wrong.
I’m a centrist. But I’m a centrist who knows that centrism isn’t enough. You need the electorate to believe that you have a leader who is prime ministerial, a leader who goes to where most people are, and gently pulls them in the right direction, rather than standing miles away from them with a megaphone and placard, a leader who says some things that they want to hear and that you don’t.
And what did you do? You picked a man with no experience of office, who has never seen a British foreign policy he liked, or an authoritarian left-wing leader he didn’t like. A man who won’t sing the national anthem. A man who is “always on the right side of history” – apart from Kosovo, the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and that time he founded an organisation which then called for insurgents to kill British soldiers in Iraq, before becoming its chair.
Oh, yes, and that photo of him opposing apartheid – as if that were an unpopular position in Britain in the sixties to the nineties? That’s at a protest which the bulk of the British anti-apartheid movement did not want to happen.
As my dear friend Twll Dun says:
…what actually emerges from our brief potted history of a picture of Jeremy on a demo is not a lone man, prescient in his opposition to the evil apartheid regime. Instead, it is a man who – when an idea is already mainstream and backed by the vast majority of the left – finds himself drawn to a demonstration organised by those on the wildest shores of it, a demo the utility of which – centred entirely around the right to keep a non-stop picket outside an embassy – to the wider cause of the movement is debatable, to say the least.
You picked a man with absolutely no hope of becoming British prime minister – and a long history of opposing the EEC/EU – and you knew all this before you voted for him, because you were told.
And all this because you didn’t want to compromise. Because you were happy to make the perfect the enemy of the good.
That’s fine if you’re on the far left of British politics. If your concern is about building a populist protest movement, then you know what Jeremy Corbyn is and how he would be as leader. I have no problem with you. You had an objective and you succeeded. Fair play to you.
But the rest of you, the ones who voted for Jeremy Corbyn because you thought he was the most likely to become Prime Minister – what on earth were you thinking?
I’m a centrist. But there’s a line at that centre. I’m probably far closer to some people on the other side of that line on many subjects than I am to the leader of the Labour Party.
But I won’t cross that line, because in the end I think people who have all the advantages have to help those people with none of the advantages – not that they ought to help them, not that they should be encouraged to help them, but that they have to help them. It’s not a matter of charity, it’s a requisite of civilisation.
That’s why I have to vote Labour at this general election. Not because I think Jeremy Corbyn is good – I think he would be a terrible Prime Minister, incapable of taking the sort of quick and ruthless decisions with which Prime Ministers are faced.
But I think Theresa May has demonstrated she is a much worse Prime Minister. I believe she will pursue a disastrous Brexit and leave the public realm devastated for generations, while Corbyn would pursue a slightly-less disastrous Brexit and keep the NHS and schools ticking over until a proper grown-up who can do sums could take charge.
If you’re on the same side of that line as me, you should do the same. Being an adult in British politics often means voting for the unsatisfactory to avoid the worse. I told people before Corbyn was first elected that they were making the perfect the enemy of the good. It would be inconsistent for me not to follow my own advice.
But don’t bloody make me do this again, you gobshites.