Gary Raymond on the new stars of the UKIP stage parachuted down in the run up to the Welsh elections.
In the 1970s, when the United States realised there was money to be made in the sport the rest of the known world was into, they decided on a strategy to maximise the launch of their soccer league. They paid relatively huge sums of money to the world’s biggest stars such as Pele, Cruyff and Eusébio to come in and raise the profile of the game, both to the American sports fanbase and as an international event. It was a momentary success, as the cameras followed these stars, and the world was suddenly made aware that the U.S.A. ‘had’ football. The attention might not have lasted, but it was a tactic that has been repeated ever since; in Japan’s J-League where they brought in Gary Lineker and another host of Brazilians, and now in Russia, the Middle East and China for where more and more upcoming stars are turning their back on the Premier League for a shot at heavy money.
The philosophy is a simple one: stars attract people, they attract interest. They attract media – which is money – and they attract fans, which also attracts media which is money.
But what happens when the same tactic is applied to a sphere where there is no talent, at least not talent for the job at the heart of the matter? Well, then you need something else apart from job skills to attract the media. Maybe a pantomime villain. How about a couple of clowns?
Whereas Neil Hamilton and Mark Reckless are hardly Rodney Marsh and George Best playing schoolyard pranks on each other at Fulham, they do come in to Wales with a similar amount of arrogance. And a not insignificant amount of star power. That Marsh and Best were also extremely skilled at their jobs, good looking, and cool, is a sign of the times not an exception to the rule. Talent used to woo the cameras, and circus shenanigans were a plus; but as we all know, that is no longer the case. It is talent that is the plus.
The power wielded by political lightweights, given unending airtime by a media just as adhered to the arrogance of their tired old system as the Westminster politicians are to theirs, is perhaps one of the greatest tragedies of our age. In the eighties, British politics saw perhaps the penultimate generation of serious, talented, heavyweight politicians. Just a shame many of them were sprinkled throughout the Thatcher cabinet. The nineties, and Blair’s early years, perhaps saw the last of this breed, people like John Smith and Robin Cook, Clare Short and Mo Mowlam, a generation making marks between the Yes, Minister lot and the Thick of It weasels. These were people who came up through the political ranks, not through PPE faggery and the modern local party growbags.
And now we have perhaps the poorest slew of politicians the country has seen since Edmund Blackadder won Dunny-on-the-Wold. Now we have George Osborne, who’s sociopathy is more and more making him resemble Travis Bickle, a man who represents almost in microcosm everything that is wrong with political media coverage – that he lurches from u-turn to catastrophe to GCSE economic fudging and is still referred to as a political genius. We don’t have any heavyweights. We have the clowns. We have Farage, with his paper-thin xenophobic platitudes that spill out of his flip top head whenever one of his live-in BBC journalists wearily mopes up for a breakfast buttie and a Lambert and Butler. Cameron, a Prime Minister so inept he is in danger of destroying the European Union just because he was frightened of Farage for about an afternoon. And Boris Johnson. A man for who cynical buffoonery is but an oily suit he dons every day. We do not have heavyweights. We have clowns.
The important thing to remember here, is that politics has long since stopped being about the business of governing. It is now a sport. Look at the punditry, the tumescent coverage when a big game comes along like a budget or a bye-election. Just spend five minutes in the pub with a political obsessive – or even better, a political operative – and correlate the language of political coverage with the tribalism and arrogance of football.
And now for the silver lining (or lining of some kind – perhaps it’s mucus) to the fact UKIP are ‘parachuting in’ Hamilton and Reckless, and it’s not just that we’ll inherit some more English media political platitudes such as ‘parachuting in’. UKIP have a history of dragging the media behind them, and let’s not pretend Hamilton is much more than a confused wannabe public school boy who, at some time in the late seventies, was diverted en route to a Latin exam, and had his satchel replaced with a rosette. Hamilton is just a foot soldier, but where he goes, the London media turns its neck with a leathery creek. He is a media black hole, just as Farage is, just as Kilroy-Silk was, and to a lesser extent, just as Reckless is (if Reckless didn’t look quite so much like Philip Larkin’s love child from an affair the poet had with a stuck pig at Hull farmer’s market). But if you’re one of those who frequently bemoans the fact the Welsh Assembly elections are getting less coverage in the nationwide media than Donald Trump’s half-sentences and baboon calls, then Hamilton and Reckless are a godsend, are they not?