I wonder: did Australian television broadcast Bagpuss to its younger viewers during the Seventies? I’m asking because the Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett, grew up in New South Wales. Maybe she loved Bagpuss as much as I did; one story in particular:
“Charliemouse then tells Bagpuss and Yaffle that the mill makes chocolate biscuits out of breadcrumbs and butterbeans. The mice run the Mill, and it does appear to make chocolate biscuits, but Williemouse takes the biscuits away before anyone can try them.
Yaffle is still sceptical, and goes round the back to discover that the mice have been re-using everything to play a trick.”
For “breadcrumbs and butterbeans” read tax relief for private landlords; for “chocolate biscuits” read the 500,000 new homes which Natalie Bennett’s Green Party will deliver, should her outfit be rewarded with a parliamentary majority in early May.
Or won’t deliver, given her car-crash interview with LBC’s Nick Ferrari this morning.
When asked a few simple questions about where the money for the half million new homes was to come, Ms Bennett fell apart. Yaffle strikes again! You don’t, it turns out, get something for nothing in this world, however much the idea appeals to the infantile cast of mind.
Not everyone shines in radio interviews (cough). I once dreamed of building a media profile – don’t laugh – but killed the ambition off, when I allowed a pop singer to shout me down on Today, when we were meant to be discussing the Scottish referendum. “Stick to writing things, Graeme,” my other half told me, gently. “You don’t do so well when people are talking to you. No: maybe don’t dial it up on iPlayer.”
So I do feel some sympathy for Ms Bennett. It’s amazing how mind-blanking a phenomenon a microphone can be. But this isn’t the first car-crash interview she’s endured at the hands of a set of relevant policy questions. Her no-claims bonus (“I’m new to this”) is long lost. Her premiums must be exorbitant.
And there’s a big difference between Natalie and me: I’m not asking for your vote. I have no plans to be the nation’s government. It doesn’t seem too big a request to make of party leaders that they should master whatever material their brief contains, before attempting to sell it to us on the airwaves. They’ve nothing else to do with their time, after all: policy is what they, supposedly, do. (In between those interesting business opportunities.)
Scrutiny turns out to be a useful electoral disinfectant, which might be a point in favour of the “leader debates”. Hitherto these have struck me as pointlessly presidential, for a constitution such as ours.
Because it’s unfair to single out Ms Bennett’s faults when it comes to spending policy; she’s hardly unique in leading an opposition party which claims to have found Bagpuss’s chocolate biscuit machine, or its British political analogue: vast expenditure from a tiny, fictional tax base. I lost count of the proposals from Labour that were to be paid for by some sort of banker tax.
“Everything is costed!” the Chocolate Biscuit party spokesmen always gibber, when an interviewer asks them how their schemes will be funded. They’re right. Insane plans to abandon the mild restraint placed on spending by the Liberal-Tory Coalition have been costed to death, by the Greeks and Gordon Brown, among others. That cost is “too much”.
Even Bagpuss eventually realised that limitless chocolate biscuits can’t be made from nothing. Perhaps Natalie should give him a call.
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