Thursday, March 13, 2008

Dull as Darling


British newspapers employ creatures called parliamentary sketchwriters, who cover Parliament as theater. American newspapers have no equivalent, that’s why God invented blogs. But what do sketchwriters do with speeches that are important but less than completely enthralling, such as yesterday’s budget speech by Chancellor the Exchequer Alistair Darling? They try to write entertainingly about how boring it was. Some examples:

Jackie Ashley of the Guardian, in an article entitled “Darling, Doyen of Dull”:
It may well be the dullest budget of my adult lifetime. It was so boring that, at times, the chancellor’s gentle drone seemed to be sending even him to sleep.
Ann Treneman of the Times:
Mr Darling smiled, for he’d wanted to be dull. It was his theory that, when the world economy is in the lurch, Britain didn’t want excitement. It wanted dull and, though it may be immodest of him to think such a thing, he thought he may have delivered exactly that. ...

“Dull, dull, dull!” praised an observer, eyes indeed dulled. ...

This speech was better than Valium, in whatever quantities. It was stupendously, doggedly and phantasmagorically dull. ...

Here, then, are my tips on how to be as dull as Darling:

– Talk about stability. In the first minute, he said it six times. Whenever there was a natural pause, he mumbled “stability”. It was a comfort word. The only possible conclusion is we are living in very unstable times.

– In the middle, talk about nothing. The speech was 52 minutes long and, except for the beginning and end, it was gloop. If this was a sandwich, the filling was a Treasury’s version of fish paste: mashed up footnotes that smell a bit funny.
Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail, “So Boring He Even Stupefied Himself”:
Eyeballs swivelled in sockets until the whites faced outwards. Westminster was turned into Torpor-on-Thames. ...

Geoffrey Howe, upstairs in the peers' gallery, lasted about ten minutes before he drifted away with the fairies, lucky swine. ...
A man from the SDLP staggered out of the Chamber mid-Budget, possibly in search of black coffee or a loaded revolver.
Simon Carr of the Independent:
The statistics produced by the Budget make very gloomy reading. Fabricated surprise up 27 per cent. Muffled indignation and ostentatious chatting – up 17 per cent. Stifled yawns, glazed expressions and numbed buttocks – up by a whopping 62 per cent. “But we must do more,” the Chancellor kept saying, followed by sage nodding (up 12 per cent) from the ex-chancellor beside him.

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