John Lanchester · Tory Social Attitudes
Humphrys went after Kinnock on the subject of Labour’s 1992 loss, and whether there was a parallel with the current contest. The gist was: people didn’t vote for you because there was something about you they didn’t like. People might not vote for Brown because there is something about him they don’t like. How does that make you feel? So we had: ‘Your personality played a very large part in your campaign, you think it helped bring about your downfall, do you think that’s going to be the case with Gordon Brown?’ And then: ‘What they did was they looked at you as an individual and apparently they didn’t much like, or at least a lot of them didn’t much like what they saw. They will do the same with GB won’t they?’
When Kinnock accused him of dabbling in ‘pop psychology’ Humphrys said: ‘You know that these things matter because you saw what happened with yourself.’ Kinnock said, mildly enough, that ‘the situation was radically different and I don’t think we’ll learn much from 1992,’ and then went on to say that he accepted his full share of responsibility for that defeat.
This kind of interviewing, in my view, is broken. Apart from the pointless rudeness, Kinnock can’t possibly answer the question by saying a. proposed tax rises did me in (because Labour today are offering tax rises), b. 1992 was a long time ago, so who cares? and c. I was perceived as a Welsh windbag, which is a different thing from a Scottish miserabilist. Because he can’t say those things – which would immediately take on a life of their own and derail the election launch – he has to cling to his talking points. Utility and informativeness of the exchange: zero.
For an example of how to do it, here’s Eddie Mair grilling William Hague on the subject of Christopher Grayling (at 16m50s), the shadow home secretary who said that he sympathised with b-and-b owners who didn’t want to allow gay couples to stay with them. Mair is not rude but he is firm, and Hague does pretty well. It’s a worthwhile exchange because the idea that the social attitudes of the Tories have changed is supposed to be central to the appeal of Cameron’s relaunched, rebranded, ‘decontaminated’ party. I suspect that there’s a huge gap between the way the Tories are talking in public about these issues, and what they really think.
Conspiracy theorists have already noticed that Cameron’s launch speech was supposed to have him saying that he was ‘fighting this election for the Great Ignored – young, old, rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight’, but what he actually said was: ‘They may be black or white, they may be rich or poor, they may live in the town or in the country.’ That’s more than slightly different. By Leeds in the evening, the gays and straights were back in Cameron’s speech, and the Tories were saying it was all a side-effect of the fact that he had been talking without notes. To my ear it sounds a bit more considered than that.