Kick Up The Tabloids 61


I’m not a betting man but I now wish that back in May I had put a five-pound treble on Anne Widdecombe becoming a reality TV star, Boris Johnston being leader of the opposition and the Lib Dems performing a U-turn on tuition fees before the year was out. I would have been in the money well before Christmas. Amazingly, Ms Widdecombe has captured the hearts of the nation and the front pages of the tabloids with her appearances on Strictly Come Dancing.After last year’s stellar rise of Susan Boyle, this only goes to confirm that there is nothing the British TV-viewing public likes more than a spectacularly ugly virgin showing off on the small screen. And, believe me, that screen really does look look small when Anne is dancing across it.

It wasn’t only Anne dancing of course. We had Harriet Harman trying her hand at stand-up comedy, with an excruciating badly-written and amateurishly-delivered gag describing Danny Alexander as a“ginger rodent”, which if nothing else was highly offensive to red squirrels. Boris Johnston is obviously not the leader of the opposition, but has been leading the protests against David Cameron’s proposals to cut housing benefit. Incidentally, talking of the Leader of the Opposition, it shows how bizarre is our democratic system when we see Ed Miliband going head-to-head with Cameron at PMQs, a man most Labour MPs did not vote for as their leader taking on a man who virtually no-one in the entire country voted for as Prime Minister.

That Boris is opposed to the changes in Housing Benefit just shows up thebrutality of this new Government.Thousands of poor people will be forced to move out of central London, which may actually prove to be unpopular even with Tory voters.After all, if people on housing benefit have to leave the centre of the City, where are the bankers going to find anyone to clean their houses? Furthermore, those on Job Seeker’s Allowance for more than a year will have their Housing Benefit cut, making them more vulnerable to becoming homeless.That must rate as one of the more novel ways of tackling unemployment, by making the unemployed homeless, hence unemployable.

On top of this, the Coalition then announces plans to force the unemployed to do community work such as picking-up litter. What I don’t get is how the Tories think that this plan fits with their vision of “Big Society”. Surely making unemployed people pick up litter will merely encourage people who have got jobs to drop litter, knowing that some unemployed person will come along to pick it up. This was something that even Margaret Thatcher at the height of her zaniness never suggested. Admittedly, at the peak of Thatcher’s reign, unemployment was so high that there wouldn’t have been enough litter on the streets for all of the unemployed to pick up. In fact, the same is likely to happen now under Cameron once the cuts kick in. Presumably, some people on Job Seeker’s Allowance will have to go around leaving litter in parks so that a whole load of other people on Job Seeker’s Allowance can come and pick it up.

Meanwhile, the Government has announced that it does have a plan of sorts to tackle unemployment by bringing in laws which will make it easier to sack people. This is the sort of nonsense that would even have appeared batty and right-wing in the 1980s. It reminds me of some of the cuckoo ideas that rose like steam out of the head of Sir Keith Joseph, Margaret Thatcher’s guru and Education Minister, who would think up the all kinds of wacky reactionary policies such as sterilising the homeless and making them pay for the operation. A man who was so far right that he appeared to be mentally-deranged, yet who seems the epitome of moderation compared to Iain Duncan-Smith. Nonetheless, despite all evidence to the contrary, David Cameron assured the nation, at the Tory Conference, that “Your Country Needs You”.Somewhat dangerous and doom-laden rhetoric, given that the last time that phrase was uttered it ushered in four years of the most appalling carnage in the history of humankind.I guess we’ve all been warned then.

And finally to the Lib Dems. Six short months after appearing on election platforms under a banner which proclaimed “We Pledge To Scrap Fees”, Clegg, Cable et al have now decided to double or treble them.Doubtless, as always, to be justified by the excuse of “not realising how big the mess was”. Vince Cable increasingly resembles one of those dodgy mechanics who will give you an estimate and then treble it once they’ve looked under your bonnet.“Well, we didn’t realise it was going to be that bad. This is going to cost you, squire.”

It may be, however that the Lib Dems were misunderstood in the first place and that the original campaign of“We pledge to scrap tuition fees” had been abbreviated so that it would fit on placards and that the statement in full was “We pledge to scrap tuition fees at their current rate and replace them with fees that are three times as much as they are now”. Doesn’t look quite as snappy on a poster, after all.

Anyway, what the public fail to understand is that this is all part of the Coalition’s idea of Big Society. If your son or daughter is going to a university that has decided to triple its fees, all you need to do is get together with a group of like-minded people and set up your own university.I can’t see there being a lot of takers for that idea. But then, I’m not a betting man.