There is a particular type of news story which British politics alone produces. Maybe it’s to do with our politicians, our media or our national sense of humour, but it’s undeniable that Westminster has an amazing capacity to produce scandals which give a prominent part to odd (and otherwise insignificant) items.
The case of Rebekah Brooks’ horse, which it has emerged was ridden by David Cameron once despite No 10’s previous denials, is a classic example. The story is interesting due to its part in the ongoing discussion of relationships between politicians, the media and the police, but in itself it’s not that interesting. On paper, it doesn’t deserve front page billing – and yet it is almost certain to be on the front page of several of tomorrow’s papers.
What propels into media stardom is the very fact that the whole thing centres around a horse – and it is this kind of peculiar political prop that British journalists and audiences absolutely revel in.
In order to further the study of this phenomenon, here are CrashBangWallace.com’s Top 10 Weird Political Scandal Props:
1) Ron Davies’ “badger”
The former Secretary of State for Wales was forced to quit politics after being photographed by The Sun apaprently cruising for sex in the woods. So far, so run-of-the-mill sex scandal. It was, however, his claim that he had been “watching badgers” that made the story famous, notorious and memorable. The badger is distinguished particularly by being a Political Scandal Prop which did not actually exist. (As an aside, almost as memorable a prop provided by Davies was the word “sorry” which he wrote on his hand before TV interviews to remind himself to say it…)
2) Michael Foot’s Donkey Jacket
Michael Foot was a disastrous Labour leader for many reasons (not least the “longest suicide note in history”), but he is still remembered for wearing what appeared to be a donkey jacket at the Cenotaph on Armistice Day in 1981. As it turned out, it wasn’t a donkey jacket after all, and the Queen Mother reportedly liked it, but the impression that he was treating the ceremony with disrespect stuck both on his reputation and in the memories of the public.
3) The Duck House
In modern times, the £1,645 Duck House claimed on MPs’ expenses by Sir Peter Viggers is undoubtedly the pinnacle of the Weird Political Scandal Props genre. The fact that no-one knew what a duck house was before Sir Peter gave the UK’s duck house industry a publicity boost helped the story to come to be emblematic of the entire MPs’ expenses scandal. Ask someone in the street what they remember about MPs’ expenses and they are certain to mention the accommodation facilities provided to Viggers’ mallards.
4) John Gummer’s burger
In 1990, at the height of the BSE/CJD panic, Agriculture Minister John Gummer attempted to calm the public by feeding a beef burger to his daughter. As if the deployment of a young child, or the attempt to feed her allegedly dangerous meat, wasn’t bad enough, young Miss Gummer refused to eat it, so her father tucked in for the cameras instead.
5) David Mellor’s Chelsea Kit
In the firestorm of scandals engulfing John Major’s Government, David Mellor’s affair with Antonia de Sancha still stands out – purely due to her claims that he asked her to wear a Chelsea shirt while they had sex. In the 90s, sleaze was all too common, but sleaze with such an odd prop proved legendary.
6) William Hague’s baseball cap
The newly elected leader of the Conservative Party, in opposition for the first time in 18 years and battered from the grim decline of the Major years, went on an immediate drive to appear young and in touch. For some reason, this involved wearing a baseball cap on a log flume at a theme park - a move which was roundly mocked from the left and the right. (A close runner up for William Hague was the 14 pints that he claimed to regularly drink in a day when younger.)
7) Humphrey the Downing Street Cat
Shortly after the Blairs moved into Downing Street in 1997, Humphrey the cat, who had been in residence since 1989, was unceremoniously forced to move out. Medical reasons were cited for his retirement (“spending more time with his family” presumably being inapplicable), but rumours abounded that Cherie Blair had taken a dislike to him – or even had him murdered, according to Alan Clark.
8 ) The egg that hit John Prescott
In 2001, countryside protester and mullet-wearer Craig Evans threw an egg at John Prescott. The one thing he probably didn’t expect was for Prezza to wallop him in return. There were calls for a resignation, general sympathy for wanting to punch someone who pelts you with food and the famous Blair response “John is John” – all started by a simple egg.
9) Michael Mates’ engraved watch
One of the odder parts of the Polly Peck scandal in the early 90s (which is only now coming to court, with Asil Nadir’s return to Britain) was when Michael Mates, then Northern Ireland Minister, sent Nadir a watch engraved with the words “Don’t let the buggers get you down”. Somewhat embarassingly for Mates, who had been defending Nadir in public as well as sending such tokens in private, the businessman skipped bail and fled to Cyprus. Mates resigned.
10) John Hemming’s girlfriend’s cat
Before the scandal over Rebekah Brooks’ horse, Lib Dem MP John Hemming had provided the most recent animal-themed controversy. Hemming, a repeat adulterer who has been a little too open about his sex life for some reason, apparently annoyed even his hyper-tolerant wife so much so that she stole his mistress’s pet cat. The cat was reported to have been found, but there have since been allegations that the cat that was handed over is not the real cat after all. The mystery deepens…
There are plenty more Weird Political Scandal Props out there – which are your favourites?
Despite the big impact he’s generally recognised to have made on the hacking issue over the last fortnight, it seems Ed Miliband is still having some serious recognition issues even among the political media. After the Today Programme and the internet itself mixed him up with his brother David, and the Telegraph did the same, the effect is spreading.
Guido picked up on the Daily Mirror’s Mili-mixup:
This is quite funny, but it leaves Labour with a serious question: if even now, at the height of his performance, journalists mix up Ed Miliband with David Miliband what hope is there that the public know who he is?
In the Final Destination films, whenever someone cheats death the universe immediately starts trying to correct their lucky escape by killing them off. It know seems increasingly likely that this is happening to Ed Miliband – fate clearly never meant him to become Labour leader, he beat David by accident and now the universe is trying to set its mistake right.
A few weeks ago the Today Programme mixed the two up, and I noted that no less an authority than the internet has no idea who Ed is. Yesterday, the Independent revealed that millions of voters shown a photo of Ed would identify it as David Miliband.
Now even the Telegraph has started doing it, reporting in its coverage of the Inverclyde by-election that:
The Labour leader, David Miliband echoed Mr McKenzie’s sentiments and went further saying that the Labour win showed how disillusioned the public were about the coalition government’s handling of the economy.
How long can it be before the forces of fate and nature set right this mistake and put David Miliband in charge? When will Ed reach his Final Destination?
There’s a simple personality profiling test called the Pig Test. You draw a doodle of a pig, and the way you do so is used to give a sketch outline of your personality type. (If you want to take the test yourself, please draw a pig now, because the details in the rest of this post will otherwise influence your results). It’s not perfect, but it’s an amusing little way to give a broadbrush insight into what you or your friends are like.
So according to the rules of the Pig Test, what does it tell us about Ed Balls’ personality?
First, the doodle is located at the top of the page, which apparently should mean “you are perceived as a positive
and optimistic person by others.” (I did say it wasn’t perfect).
Next, we look at the direction the pig is facing – Ed’s piggywig is looking out of the page directly at us, indicating “you are a direct person; [you] neither fear nor avoid discussion and enjoy “stirring the pot” to promote change.”
The doodle also has more detail than you would normally expect in a picture of a cartoon pig, which means “you see yourself as analytical and cautious. Others must work hard to earn your trust and to keep it.”
The fact the pig has two rather than four legs indicates a sense of insecurity, that “you are living through a period of major change in your life”.
The pig’s ears aren’t unusually large or unusually small, so far as I can see that means Ed is a fairly good listener.
Finally, and most tellingly, there’s the tail. According to the rules of the Pig Test, “the longer the pig’s tail that you have drawn (including loops) the more satisfied you are with the quality of your personal relationships”.
It speaks for itself that Ed Balls’ pig has no tail at all.
Ed Balls has evidently decided that hammering the Coalition on rising fuel duty and the double-tax on fuel through VAT is the right way to go. Politically, it’s a clever choice – the levels of tax faced by motorists are punitively high, it does harm the economy and it means ordinary taxpayers are often punished for making essential trips to work or to the shops – particularly in rural areas.
Essentially, he is shifting – at least partially – into TaxPayers’ Alliance messaging, casting himself as being on the side of the strivers, the strugglers and the just-getting-by. Heck, he even confessed this morning that maybe the previous Government might have wasted some money, an acknowledgement that seems obvious to the rest of us but is a groundshaking revelation when it comes from Balls.
As well as being political good sense, this is also part of a growing decontamination strategy that Labour are pursuing to shed the negative associations of the stealth taxes and squandered billions of 1997-2010.
The question with any decontamination strategy is “Will it work?”
With Ed Balls, you’ve got to wonder if even his powers of self-delusion will succeed this time. Today, he is an opponent for economic and moral reasons of hammering motorists. In his pomp helping to present and defend the Budget back in 2007, though, he was boasting about the ethical worthiness of, erm, hammering motorists:
That is exactly what we have been doing over the past 10 years with action to shift the tax burden from “goods” to “bads”, and with the work that we have done to support and, indeed, to pioneer international emissions control and trading. In the Budget, we have set out further actions to advance the environment agenda, including…a fuel duty increase of more than inflation
Is it really believable that the Ed Balls who spent a decade squeezing and squeezing motorists until the pips squeaked because driving was “bad” has now seen sense and is fighting on the motorists’ side? It’s about as plausible as Jeremy Clarkson being elected as the next leader of the Green Party.