Well, at LEAST it wasn't the Trident Atomic Missiles that EXPLODED in our faces!
It has been a bit of an up and down few days for Sir Mr the Merciless, hasn't it? First, he did jolly well on Questionable Time, then he walked into a drubbing from the Newsnight Show, but then he turned the Trident debate around leading from the front, only to have his leader's speech overshadowed by confusion over doing a deal with Mr Frown.
(In this context "confusion over policy" can be translated as "we journalists aren't going to admit to taking a wrong steer".)
I have to admit, my first reaction to hearing the "five tests for a coalition with Labour" spin version was a Homer Simpson/Darth Vader-esque:
Once Daddy Alex had found a stepladder and pried me down off of the ceiling, however, I thought again and decided that I was COMPLETELY RIGHT the first time!
This Labour government is probably about as ILLIBERAL as you can go without ordering black uniforms and shiny boots. The thought of doing a deal with them – not just with them but with one of the principal architects of the NuLabour "Project" – is TOTALLY HORRID!
How can we even THINK of having a coalition with them?
In fact, we have to face TWO important questions:
Is it REALLY conceivable that we could go into government with Mr Frown's Labour?
Is it REALLY INconceivable that we could go into government with Mr Balloon's Conservatories?
The DANGER of Sir Mr the Merciless speech is that it looks like answering YES to both questions.
The core of that speech is his quickly INFAMOUS five tests for Mr Frown.
(1. Are you frowning? 2. Do you bite your nails? 3. Is your mouth hanging open? 4. Are you sulking? 5. Do you have the natural charisma of a dead undertaker? If yes to all five, you are Mr Frown!)
We all know that this was a VERY FUNNY joke about Mr Frown's own "five tests": five impossible things to do before breakfast if you want to join the Euro – and in that sense, it is saying "here are five things that Mr Frown will NEVER EVER do which is why were are NEVER EVER entering a coalition with him!"
But HONESTLY, we have had ten years of the Labour in government and they have come up SERIOUSLY WANTING. Do we really need more TESTS?
And dismissing the Conservatories with a single "Are the Conservatories up to this same challenge? Of course not" appears UNBALANCED – and that opens the door a CRACK to letting people think that you favour Mr Frown a wee bit but Mr Balloon not one jot.
The true tests for the Conservatories surely should be the SAME, but with ONE MORE: have some policies so that we can TELL whether you have changed or not!
And maybe we should even just consider calling Mr Balloon's bluff on this one – ask him if HE wouldn't be willing to join US in a coalition. After all, we know already that he thinks that several Liberal Democrat MPs are BETTER than any of his Conservatory candidates.
(Personally, I do not think that the Conservatories could BEAR the idea of being in a coalition with us, so often do they pour scorn upon us, but maybe some of them are a bit more grown up than their more outspoken colleagues. Hmmm, interesting choice for Mr Balloon: irritate a whole load of loud-mouthed Conservatory reactionaries – and simultaneously surrender in every Liberal/Conservatory marginal – or repudiate his whole Liberal Conservatory persona.)
On the other fluffy foot, although we would certainly get some publicity from the SHOCK VALUE of suggesting we might consider a coalition with the Conservatories, we would be giving entirely too much CREDIBILITY to Mr Balloon in advance of him having a policy on anything at all.
(One of Sir Mr the Merciless' BEST moments was on Questionable Time when, as Auntie Maude shrivelled under cross-examination on the Conservatories' latest marriage-related-tax-break whimsy, he said "no wonder they don't have any policies – as soon as they announce something it unravels within 48 hours". In fact, it was less than 24 hours later that Mr Boy George Osborne was already rowing back, saying they HADN'T DECIDED what the policy actually was yet.)
Because that is the problem of talking up coalitions: it stops us talking about OUR agenda and just makes us a support act for one or both of the other two.
We get little enough coverage as it is. Journalists are usually pretty bright sorts of people, but they do seem to have a habit of treating their readers and viewers as though they are FIVE.
Some of us are SEVEN you know! [R: six, but the point still stands.]
You do not need to talk to us like there are only two nice easy choices. We can cope with a third idea! And if a third idea comes along, well it's not got to lean to one side or the other; it can stand on its own.
But we're not doing ourselves any favours if we make picking sides look like something we're interested in. Because it will let them carry on pretending it is all we are about.
The Sainted Oscar may have said: "There's only one thing worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about" but he hadn't thought of the possibility of only being talked about to talk about someone ELSE!
Five ways to answer THAT question:Mr Charles always managed to deflect the "hung parliament question" with aplomb, but then in fairness after 1997 it never looked like the Labour were likely to lose their majority, mainly thanks to the inadequacies of the Conservatories. Right now, though, the outcome of the next election looks like it could be a toss up between Mr Frown squeaking home with a tiny majority – or minority! – or Mr Balloon managing to come in with most seats. And that makes the "hung parliament question" much more of a HOT TOPIC.
So what SHOULD you say?
1. Push your own agenda instead"Well, Kirsty/Jeremy/Ant&Dec, I want to deliver Liberal Democrat policies for the people of Britain. Just this week I'm talking about how We Can Cut Crime/make the Green Tax Switch/…"
2. Dismiss the premise"You already know my answer to this. I'm not interested in making deals after the next election. I'm interested in getting as many votes and as many seat for the Liberal Democrats as I can. And people should know that they can trust us to deliver Liberal Democrat polices in return."
3. Differentiate ourselves from the NuToryLabour parties"At the moment, Mr Balloon looks like he's already in a coalition with Lord Blairimort, supporting the government on education, taxation, benefits, Iraq… Only the Liberal Democrats are a distinctive voice for change, a change that people are crying out for."
4. Attack the question"If this IS a legitimate question, why do you never ask Lord Blairimort or Mr Balloon whether they would try do a deal with us or each other in the event of a hung parliament? Surely it is more urgent to know what THEY would do to get over the winning line."
"The outcome of a general election is in the hands of the people, and we should trust them to make their decision when the time comes. To ask about horse-trading in a hypothetical hung parliament after an election that hasn't even been called yet is to take the electorate for granted and I'm never going to do that. People want to hear about our policies. Why aren't you asking me about the environment, or crime, or taxation. These are the questions that matter to people. And on the subject of the environment/crime/taxation just this week I've announced new policies to tackle…"