If there's one thing that we'll remember about Tony Blair it's the sheer amount of nonsense he spouted. It's not so much his pronouncements on policy or world events, or even his endless sound bite slogans like 'Forward not back'. (As though some of us crave a return to feudal serfdom, a life expectancy of 12 and our noses dropping off at awkward moments.)
No, it's all the other guff: the platitudes, the cod-philosophising, the meaningless statements. Remember: 'I can only go one way. I've not got a reverse gear'? Apart from being untrue, it actually makes Blair sound slightly defective, like an ultra-cheap East European car that's been built without a proper gearbox and seats made out of concrete.
Blair has managed to come up with equally stupid comments about his own family, saying, 'You only require two things in life: your sanity and your wife', something that is demonstrably untrue, considering a large part of the population appears to be slightly mad and thriving on it, and of course the basic human need for air, water, food, etc. (As an aside, Blair once said: 'Once [Cherie] goes to sleep it takes a minor nuclear explosion to wake her.' Considering that a suspected British terrorist is currently in court for allegedly trying to buy a nuclear bomb from the Russian mafia, this may not be a problem for too much longer.)
Anyway, it's become clear over the last nine years that Tony truly is a master of the superficially-meaningful but ultimately vacuous comment, e.g. 'Sometimes it is better to lose and do the right thing than to win and do the wrong thing.' What's infuriating about this crap is that it suggests we've got a Prime Minister whose guiding principles fell out of a Christmas cracker, along with an ill-fitting paper hat and a plastic ring.
Thus it was a little disturbing to hear Gordon Brown coming out with similar stuff in his chancellor's broadcast of this week's budget. Looking gruesomely uncomfortable, and slightly camp, due to rather pronounced TV make-up, Brown came up with stuff like: 'I am guided by my conviction that every child is precious.' Can't argue with that, but was anyone actually suggesting that some children are worthless?
It's also questionable whether the budget actually reflected this platitude. The only concrete policy on schools is to increase investment in schools from £5.6 billion (now) to £8 billion a year over the next five years. It's good, but over five years is it really such a huge increase? Meanwhile the UK's defence budget is set to increase from £29.7 billion (2005) to £33.4 billion over the next two years. It's not comparing like with like, obviously, because a Eurofighter costs a lot more than a science lab, but the rise isn't quite as impressive in the wider context of government spending.
Other highlights of the broadcast included the comment that 'The Olympics must be an event that everyone in Britain can share in.' What, are we all going to have to take part?
More importantly, what does this actually *mean*? The Olympics will be great entertainment for anyone who likes sport. And no one should be excluded (although obviously all 65 million of us won't be able to fit in the stadium at the same time). But why are the Olympics so significant? What is there to actually
'share'? Perhaps we could all have a bit of the £600 million subsidy being given to our athletes that was announced in the budget.
Brown also came out with spookily familiar platitudes, including a demand for 'fairness for Britain's hard-working families'. More or less exactly the same phrase has been used by Tony Blair (not to mention Michael Howard and David Cameron).
Again, consider the opposite: unfairness for Britain's lazy families. That sounds a bit harsh. And how do you define 'hard-working'? Are you only a valid human being if you put in a 48-hour week? As ever, it's a way of appealing to the bulk of working and middle-class voters who are in employment (however much they hate their jobs) by slagging off the scum on state benefits. And what were the implications for the budget anyway? Er, child tax credit to rise by 14 per cent and the pointless 'child trust funds' to get an extra £250.
Brown then moved onto another old favourite, tackling 'crime and the fear of crime.' Apparently the police are poised to do this. Good. But, again, what does it mean in reality? 10,000 extra community support officers (as opposed to real policemen).
And so the broadcast went on. Considering the Brown succession has been so eagerly anticipated, it's depressing to realise that Brown seems to have adopted Blair's penchant for grandiose platitudes that bear little relation to reality. All the evidence suggests that this is the current orthodoxy in politics: couch every policy in terms that no one could really disagree with, e.g. 'Fairness should be the right of every citizen.' (Yes. And...?)
Still, at least Brown didn't choose to tell us about his wife's sleeping habits. But maybe he's saving that for when he's Prime
Minister and his personal popularity has just taken a dip.