New words in Scottish slang

By DeusExMacintosh

In an interesting glimpse into the backroom construction efforts that go into these televised debates, it seems Labour have made scriptwriter Charlie Skelton an offer he COULD refuse in a last ditch attempt to boost Gordon Brown’s performance in the third and final debate next week.

A funny thing happened to me yesterday. I was asked to write jokes for Gordon Brown, for the final televised debate. An honour indeed, the chance to craft one-liners for a man so impossibly far removed from the capacity to express humour, that should he even attempt so much as a smile, the earth can be knocked off its axis by the sheer horror of the rictus that results.

So, should I help out? Attempt to forge a game-changing zinger that would nail the half-human Cameron to the wall, and whack some of the cocky smugness out of Clegg? And yet, to lift a finger to re-elect New Labour? I wasn’t exactly sure how to phrase my response, so I simply emailed back the nice lady with a link to Iraq Body Count and left it at that.

A little part of us dies whenever one of the party leaders attempts a joke. It’s not so much that we want them to behave like “serious people” doing a “serious job”, it’s just that we want to feel that anything “funny” they might say has bubbled up from within them, not been scripted, memorized and rehearsed to within an inch of its life.

The bizarre irony of Clegg dismissing Brown’s “bathtime with the boys” joke in last night’s debate by saying: “It’s a good line in rehearsal” – was that it was a pre-prepared putdown for a pre-prepared putdown. Could the humour get any less spontaneous?

The task of any comedian, on stage or on TV, is to make you believe that right there, in the moment, they are at one with their material. Whether it’s Barry Cryer dusting off a 30-year-old quip, or Frankie Boyle distressing some poor, unsuspecting audience with an idea scooped from the bowels of hell with a teaspoon, a good comic simply won’t let you see a distance between them and the joke that they’re delivering. And sad to say, but neither Brown, nor Cameron, nor Clegg, is a good comic.

And yet, so thirsty are the press for any sign of normality from this lot, that when a joke comes juddering out, it’s usually held aloft as a brilliant gem: “This isn’t Question Time, David. It’s Answer Time.” Pow! Shazzam! Gotcha!

Lord help me, the delight on Gordon Brown’s sort of face when he managed to bumble that humdinger across the stage, it was so poignant. “I remembered it! I said it! I got all the words in the right order! They said I couldn’t do it, but I did it! I rule! I so totally rule!”

The Guardian


  1. Peter Patton
    Posted April 24, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Permalink


    How seriously do you take the idea that Clegg is a “game changer?” Is he really a contender?

  2. Posted April 24, 2010 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    He’s not a contender for PM, thanks to the vagaries of the British electoral system, but it is almost certain that the Lib Dem surge will mean drastic changes to that electoral system. There were large chunks of the second debate where Brown was reduced to spectating as it turned into the Cameron v Clegg show. Lib Dems and Tories have substantive policy differences in ways that Labour and the Tories do not, the former having lost any real political ‘base’ and so reliant on a gimcrack sort of ‘third-way-ism’. The Lib Dems are not third way in the slightest, but they’re not remotely social democratic, either. A £10,000 tax free threshold? Get rid of Trident and repeal the anti-terror laws? Pro-free trade? Consistent opposition to the Iraq War? Not socialist or left, but not Tory or right, either.

    It’s as though Britain is ‘reverting’ to what it once was politically — Whigs v Tories. They could have been arguing about the Corn Laws.

  3. Peter Patton
    Posted April 24, 2010 at 6:30 pm | Permalink


  4. Peter Patton
    Posted April 24, 2010 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    ROFL! 🙂

  5. Posted April 25, 2010 at 1:51 am | Permalink

    Sorry about that Peter, the spammer ate your comment, probably because it was a little smiley by itself.

  6. Posted April 25, 2010 at 4:18 am | Permalink

    I’d say Clegg has proven to be a game changer yes, but as SL points out whether he is a “contender” is debatable. British people have a well-established history of lying to their pollsters (the “shy Tory” phenomenon) but Clegg has definitely made a massive impression. It’s now very clear that the LibDem platform is VERY different from what the other two parties are offering (and frankly, Labour and the Conservatives are entirely interchangeable policy-wise).

    As Labour are so “on the nose” with the public after 13 years (constitutional rape and two illegal wars doo-dah, doo-dah…) the betting service predictions of Conservatives first with Lib Dem second seems quite likely. There might still be a miracle Lib Dem win, but the current electoral system is structurally against them and it would require pretty much the biggest landslide in democratic history.

    We do still risk a Lib/Lab coalition as Clegg has promised to go with whichever party has the most seats and the result might be narrow enough to still be Labour (by as little as one or two, Scottish Assembly-style where it’s the SNP in power, just). As the rhetoric claims, there may be a danger that you “Vote Clegg, get Brown” but it might be worth voting strategically depending on where you live. There is only ONE sitting conservative MP in the whole of Scotland for example, and in my local seat the LibDems came second to Labour in the last general election in 2005 (conservatives were fourth or fifth) so the yellow vote might make more sense.

  7. Posted April 25, 2010 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    How I miss Gough and Paul – both PMs could leave one ROTFL, although their senses of humor and verbal style were about as far apart as you can get.

    And Gough is still letting them rip. Big Mal recently gave Gough a signed copy of Mal’s new book which included Mal’s version of the 1975 Dismissal saga, inscribed “For Gough from Malcolm Fraser.”

    Gough, never to be outdone, gave Mal a copy of Gough’s book on the same events, inscribed “”Malcolm, let not your heart be troubled, Comrade.”

    (For Brits who won’t “get” Gough’s remark: Mal Fraser was the Tory Opposition Leader – later PM. Gough Whitlam was true Labor PM. Mal connived a constitutional crisis that brought down Gough. In St Gough’s book, Mal is Mephistopheles incarnate, although Mal has redeemed himself partially in the eyes of the left by being more to the left, especially on human rights and refugees, than modern parties both Tory and Labor. Just imagine Tony Benn had somehow been a Labor PM and was now writing to Maggie Thatcher as “Comrade” – in a book saying what a bitch she was).

  8. Peter Patton
    Posted April 25, 2010 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Heckler from the crowd: “Prime Minister if I were your wife, I’d poison you tea.”

    Churchill: “Lady Astor if I were your husband, I’d drink it.”

  9. Peter Patton
    Posted April 25, 2010 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Heckler from the crowd: “oi, whatta ya gunna do ’bout ‘ousing?”

    Sir Robert Menzies: “Well the first thing I am going to do madam, is put an ‘h’ before it.”

  10. Posted April 25, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    DEM I am familiar with the argument that the Iraq War is illegal (quaint but interesting) but why would one claim that the Afghanistan War is illegal?

  11. Posted April 26, 2010 at 2:55 am | Permalink

    DEM I am familiar with the argument that the Iraq War is illegal (quaint but interesting) but why would one claim that the Afghanistan War is illegal?

    Because the entire case for the “war against terror” (of which Afghanistan was the land campaign) was the 9/11 attacks – the source of which was, um, Medina in Saudi Arabia. Given the history of Afghanistan under British and then Russian occupation, conducting a war there with any pretensions to winning “hearts and minds” was irresponsibly stupid. Criminally so.

  12. Posted April 26, 2010 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    DEM In other words, you do not have an actual case. The 9/11 attacks were clearly organised from the territory of Afghanistan, the de facto government of which proceeded to openly protect the perpetrators. Clear casus belli, as the various NATO powers agreed.

    However noxious the Saudi regime, they cannot be held responsible for an organisation led by someone they exiled, who had called for the overthrow of the Saudi government and was not operating from their territory.

    The current Afghan effort is having difficulties, but is clearly not remotely the disaster of the 1842 British expedition and a quite different operation, at all sorts of levels, from the Soviet occupation. The NATO forces are still considerably more popular than the Taliban, for example, and notably more popular than the Coalition forces in Iraq.

  13. Posted April 29, 2010 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    So you’re content that the happy fact that the 911 perps were all middle-class Saudi Citizens who’d gone missing having moved to Medina to study, was simply co-incidental? That the Wahabist Islam pushed by the Taliban happens to be, um, Saudi in origin and funding (kind of like oh, Osama bin Laden say..). Nothing happened in the oil-rich pro-western country with the deep pockets of course, just the dirt-poor anti-western one next to Iraq, yes? Afghan water must be particularly inspiring.

    However noxious the Saudi regime, they cannot be held responsible for an organisation led by someone they exiled, who had called for the overthrow of the Saudi government and was not operating from their territory.

    Of course not. That would be like holding Syria accountable for Hezbollah in Lebanon. Or Iran for any of the terrorism in Iraq.

  14. Posted April 29, 2010 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    DEM Osama bin Laden is not, in any sense, an agent of the Saudi Government. He is an openly declared enemy of the Saudi Government: indeed part of the rationale for the 9/11 strike was to rally Muslims against the al-Saud. That makes al-Qaeda very unlike Hezbollah and the Assad regime or the Iranian regime and Shi’a terrorists in Iran.

    As for the more general responsibility of the al Saud for spreading a particularly noxious form of Islam which, among other things, has been spawning salafi jihadi terrorists: yes, utterly noxious. But not a casus belli.

    That the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is a comparable origin source points to the extensive nature of the problem. (See the three part book review I am about to start posting on my blog.)

  15. Posted April 29, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    I’m kind of in between the two of you on this one. One of the reasons I was opposed to the Iraq War was because I had (and still have) a nasty feeling that the Saudi Arabia business was going to come back and bite us all in the bum at some point, and we’d need all the resources we could lay our hands on (both military and otherwise) when it does.

    I do sometimes suspect that the Americans (going back to the original Afghan resistance to the Soviets) have had too benign a view of religion, seeing in Islam an analogue for their own religiosity. I know everyone goes on about how the Soviets didn’t have a chance in Afghanistan, but that was in large part due to the fact that the Mujahadeen received extensive American backing. I think it may have been better for all concerned if we’d let the Soviets roll the mullahs up. A similar issue pertains in Iran: a lot of the anti-government fervour comes from people we’d identify, more or less, with Marxism.

    When the time comes, I’d be arming the Marxists while simultaneously feeling vile about it. It really is a conflict between the Devil and Beelzebub.

  16. Posted April 29, 2010 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    SL: We supported Stalin against Hitler and the jihadis against the Soviets. That we ended up then struggling against Stalin and the jihadis does not mean the preceding choices were not sensible. I would prefer our present problems with the Soviet Union having collapsed to it not having collapsed. Just as I preferred to Cold War to Hitler winning WWII.

    I am dubious as to how much of the resistance to the Iranian mullahocracy is Marxist. They tried and failed: I doubt they have much credence now.

    The Soviet effort in Afghanistan collapsed once the US provided the mujahideen with Stingers. It became uneconomic. Failing to pay attention to Afghanistan afterwards let the Taliban in.

  17. Andrew Reynolds
    Posted April 30, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    If we are doing famous quotes –
    Gladstone: “I predict, Sir, that you will die either by hanging or of some vile disease”
    Disraeli: “That all depends, sir, upon whether I embrace your principles or your mistress.”

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