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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 125 - In poll position with the lumpen uncommitted

THE tumult and the shouting have started, the general election campaign captains and kings have arrived and those in poll positions will again be scrutinising that electoral enigma, the voting intentions of the lumpen uncommitted, the ballot-box agnostics or the "donít knows". I am of that indecisive persuasion. We may look half-awake, we may not seem to know whether we are coming or going, what the time of day is or what planet we are on but, under our inscrutable facades is the belief that the battle, so far, is the political equivalent of Valium.

The "donít know" tide has been joined by a groundswell of "donít cares". According to a YouGov survey, fewer than 42 per cent of first-time voters think they will vote, while 46 per cent have already voted for contestants in reality TV shows. I donít blame them. Growing numbers of the uncommitted suspect all parties of leading them up the garden path into the creek then selling them down the river or pulling the wool over their eyes. They often ask searching questions like: "Do we want a strong, honest, straight-talking, hard-hitting, solid-principled prime minister leading a transparent government, or do we want Tony Blair?"

Many candidates, they note, seem to have had charisma bypasses or are in need of intellectual liposuction, while others have distressing speech impediments - they stop to breathe. They are, however, thankful that only one party can win.

One reason for apathy is that elections are no longer as entertaining as they were. The sabre slash of sarcasm, the rapier-like repartee or even a sound, British verbal bludgeoning are often missing from candidatesí clashes. Rather than go to some poorly-attended, political meeting to hear some candidate outline his partyís manifesto plan to make Britain the wind-power paradise of the planet, disillusioned voters would probably prefer to stay at home and watch a programme on the sex life of the wombat.

WHAT we need is more hilarity at the hustings. We have had gesture politics and the politics of envy: the time has come to exploit the politics of insult to galvanise interest among the undecided, many slumped in semi-somnolence by the dull decencies of debate. I donít want crudely offensive insults but sudden, verbal slingshots and well-aimed, dagger thrusts would enliven a political scene, sadly lacking inspirational insult imagery.

Recently, Jeremy Paxman called the Health Secretary, John Reid, an "attack dog", and Peter Hain, the Leader of the Commons, des-cribed the Tory leader, Michael Howard, as an "attack mongrel". Although low-grade gibes, they put the cat among the political pigeons, the snarls doubtless much appreciated by that US presidential poodle, Tony Blair, and assuredly appreciated by Lord Tebbit, the former Tory MP, described by the then Labour leader, Michael Foot, as a "semi-house-trained polecat".

One senses a better class of insult in the parliamentary past. Many MPs could be entered in some human equivalent of Crufts, including the affectionate, shaggy, barking, Tory member, Boris Johnson, while Lady Thatcher, as prime minister, could have won the best of breed female dog award with the Labour pack whining in the dog-house.

SHE attracted some high-grade insults. "A bargain-basement Boadicea", was how Denis Healey, one-time Labour chancellor, described her, while the TV personality, Clive James, claimed that she "sounded like the Book of Revelation read out over a railway address system by a headmistress of a certain age wearing calico knickers". Great knockabout stuff; Attila the Hen revelled in it.

Clement Attlee, Britainís first post-war Labour prime minister, was cuttingly assessed by Winston Churchill as "a modest man with much to be modest about" and, on the death of an earlier prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, Churchill, with flashy metaphor, commented: "The candle in the great turnip has gone out."

The war-leader endured insult barrages. "He would make a drum out of his motherís skin to sound his own praises." So said Lloyd George, the First World War prime minister and Welsh oratorical wizard who, critics claimed, "could not see a belt without hitting below it". Anthony Eden, another premier, was, said Malcolm Muggeridge, writer and broadcaster, "not only a bore but bored for Britain". Charles, Lord Beresford - again in Churchillís words - "when he rose to speak in the House had not the least idea of what he was going to say, did not know what he was saying while speaking and when he sat down, could not remember what he had said".

A natural "donít know"? That sounds insulting to the wavering, wayward masses, but I wish he were alive today to lighten a dreary polemical landscape. To those who try to convince me that seriousness is all in electioneering, I say - poll the other leg.

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