Tuesday 12 January 2010

The doomed buffalo of Downing Street

Perhaps the most distressing thing I watched on television last year was David Attenborough’s film of an unfortunate water buffalo becoming a tasty snack for a group of Komodo dragons.

First one of the giant lizards gave it an apparently innocuous nip on its leg. Then a hungry posse haunted the doomed animal for days, as they waited for the poisonous bite to take effect.

I am reminded of this scenario every time yet another half-hearted attempt is made to ease our beleaguered Prime Minister out of Downing Street. He certainly shares many of the characteristics of the hapless buffalo and his Cabinet are doing an excellent imitation of the dragons pitilessly watching his demise. Unfortunately, however, their fangs seem to lack the requisite killing power.

The most telling charge made by those who doubted Gordon Brown’s capacity to be an effective Prime Minister was his long track record of dithering indecisiveness, so it is wonderfully ironic that his closest colleagues now prove to be even more utterly useless in this respect.

It is crystal clear that most of them cannot stand him, yet lack the nous to give him a shove even though he is standing on a sheet of ice in flat-soled leather shoes.

The back roads of rural England last week were not the only places suffering from a potentially fatal lack of grit. Will anyone ever take David Miliband’s aspirations to lead his party seriously ever again, even when advancing grey hair and wrinkles have overcome his handicap of looking like a 12-year-old Rowan Atkinson?

It has to be admitted that Mr Brown was wonderfully well served by his choice of enemies. Probably the last person in the world likely to kick-start a successful popular revolt was that Australian nursery school teacher who did so much for the nation’s cigarette and booze industries when, as Health Secretary, she kept lecturing us about the virtues of abstinence.

Only her merciful retirement from the front line has enabled Harriet Harman to seize the title of most irritating woman in British politics, as she shamelessly bangs on about equality in the self-assured accent of the privately educated niece of a belted earl.

As for Ms Hewitt’s comrade in arms, everything that needs to be said is in the cheery nickname by which he was known throughout the armed forces during his tenure as Defence Secretary: Buff Hoon.

And so we must stagger on, looking uneasily upwards at that massive avalanche of bad news about tax increases and spending cuts that must inevitably descend upon us after the general election, whatever its outcome. In the absence of some sort of coup, that cannot be deferred beyond June 3.

So we could be in for almost another six months of this epically tedious version of Macbeth, in which Duncan, sorry Gordon, remains on his throne because all concerned persist in “Letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would’ like the poor cat i’ the adage.”

Putting off administering the necessary economic medicine for half a year hardly seems sensible, either, but what else can we expect of our leaders? Those controversial pictures of the Queen wringing the neck of a wounded pheasant at Sandringham a while ago demonstrate that she knows exactly what needs to be done with her first minister, but it seems unlikely that she will take the constitutional risk of attempting it.

If it drags on long enough, perhaps Mr Brown will even start to attract a worthwhile sympathy vote. After all, by the time Stephen Fry arrived on our screens with his own account of the Komodo dragons in Last Chance to See, as part of the BBC’s ongoing efforts to squander our licence fees, I had identified with that water buffalo so strongly that the possible extinction of its assailants seemed a positively welcome development.


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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