In order to get honed for the nuances, troughs and peaks of the General Election, Sam and I spent the week watching The West Wing. Set in the White House, the TV drama ended in 2006, but, despite the crash of Lehman Brothers, the unmasking of Bernie Madoff, the election of Barack Obama and a global recession, it feels as timely as today’s copy of The Times.
My boxed set spent two years unopened, but, suddenly, it’s like having crack cocaine in the house. We’re so addicted that we can hardly stop to watch the real news. The truth is, after the speedy walk-and-talk of The West Wing, the battle between Gordon Brown and David Cameron seems rather dull.
What the real politics in Britain and the virtual politics of The West Wing have in common, however, is the general loathing of each side for their opponents. The Republicans hate the Democrats. The Democrats hate the Republicans. Labour hates the Conservatives and the Conservatives hate Labour. And yet, if either camp bothered to poll on this issue, they would discover that 88% of the electorate can’t stand the mutual bitterness and hatred and believe that the country would be better run in a spirit of genuine non-partisanship.
Okay-88% is just a guess. Still, I think most ordinary citizens who are worried about money, health, children, petrol prices, teeth, love, pensions and war would like the political leaders to work together instead of against each other. Most ordinary folk are non-partisan.
So am I. On a scale of 1 to 10, I think I score fairly high in the non-partisan stakes. The night Tony Blair was elected Prime Minister, I thought it was a good thing. I was sad about friends who lost their seats, but I thought the Conservatives were tired and needed time out. I believed that Tony Blair was fresh, smart, exciting. When a sleepy Cherie opened the door the next morning in her pyjamas, she looked human. I liked the whole fuzzy New Labour shoeshine. Ten points.
More proof of my non-partisanship: I like Vince Cable. Actually, liking Vince Cable is like believing in common sense, freedom of information, Just a Minute, clean rivers, hymns and labradors for the blind. Nice, but no points.I’ve got better non-partisan credentials. One of my best friends is Tessa Jowell’s best friend. True, I prayed for that Olympic envelope to say Paris, and as for the £22 million Anish Kapoor Tower (correction: the ArcelorMittal Orbit, named for Mr Mittal, who is donating the steel), I think it is a fitting symbol of the financial albatross of the Games.
I have never chased a fox while riding a horse, but I can’t forgive a political party that spent more time debating fox hunting than they did the war in Iraq. Which brings me to my main grudge against Mr Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer during that war. If he had joined his compatriot Robin Cook, he could have gone down in history and changed it. Instead, eaten alive with the ambition to get into 10, Downing Street, he chewed his fingers and kept silent. Zero points.
Meanwhile, I’ll go on record as saying that I hope that Mr Cameron makes it to Number 10. Yes, I wish he was more like President Bartlet. I don’t require a Nobel Prize in Economics, the Bible in his soul and history in his head (but wouldn’t it be great?). I’d just like to think Mr Cameron feels rage and sadness at the billions-in pounds and hope-that have been squandered since 1997.
That by the time we are saying Prime Minister Cameron, he will have realised that the country needs bolder ideas than those that appeal to the key marginals. As 154 episodes and Obama’s first year in the West Wing have shown us, it’s no good being the only non-partisan on the block.
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