Saturday, 6 June 2009

The counter-insurgency will be broadcast.

The revolution will not be televised, so Gil Scott-Heron promised us, but yesterday's counter-insurgency operation certainly was.

It was Tony Blair who stopped forcing soon-to-be ex-Ministers walk the green mile to their execution at a fireside chat with the Prime Minister. The hiring and firing is done by phone these days but the TV cameras and news anchors still pile into Downing Street for reshuffle day, a firing squad looking for a target.

The other end of the operation are the gazebos erected on College Green where the rolling news channels chew up and spit out ministers as quickly as they can be fed into the beast. Like an army laying in for a long siege the TV companies set up camera tents across the road from Westminster and government forces put them to good use - shelling the guerrilla army of backbenchers that lay in wait behind second home allowances across the capital.

The repression was running smoothly until a newspaper leaked online the written guidance for ministers appearing in front of the cameras. They were being instructed to express "disappointment" in James Purnell, "sadness" in losing colleagues and "focus" on the economy. It was very "in the thick of it" and you imagined the Tucker/McBrides of Downing Street mouthing along silently as the automatons repeated the script on air.

Others were mouthing off too, shouting words like "spineless reptiles" loudly at the television screens as the cabinet betrayed them again. The plotters had been watching television continuously since Big Brother came on at 9pm on Thursday night and were understandably fraught.

On Thursday night James Purnell's fame spread beyond his sideburns but what's the betting that within a week his name will be on fewer peoples' lips than the game show contestants? An overnight Che Geuvara of the rebellion, by morning he was cut down by David Miliband, who could have been rebel leader. Bananaboy proved the rule that in politics you never really have friends - though in the case of the Mandelson and Brown one must make an exception.

Lord Mandelson was out early pouring the syrup of defeat into the ears of radio and television audiences. A new leader would mean an instant election - disaster - and that stymied the rebellion. Say what you want but he's quality box office is Mandelson.

That's less than can be said for the other half of the ruling double act. Gordon Brown's Fantasy Island press conference in the afternoon veered towards YouTube II, with that frightening grin coming across his face whenever he was in trouble. "I will not waver, I will not walk away, I will get on with the job and I will finish the work," he warbled, but there were moments of real passion too.

Just then Caroline Flint woke with a really bad headache. She had been due to denounce the Prime Minister the previous evening but someone must have spiked her drink. All she remembers is putting on her best dress and getting ready for the cameras.

The next thing she comes to, doesn't have a seat in cabinet and has lost her dignity. It was pure soap opera watching her realise the price of calculation and betrayal. But that was the currency Gordon Brown worked in all day. Not great television but wildly unpredictable and highly addictive.

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