It wasn’t until I woke up to the news yesterday that I knew anything about a by-election in Bradford. Nor that we were about to witness the ‘Bradford Spring’.
A vote swing of 37%, give or take a few decimal points, is pretty impressive by any standards and George Galloway is right when he describes it as the ‘most sensational result in British by-election history, bar none’. But is it ultimately pointless?
This thought came to me as I was watching the BBC quiz show, Pointless, yesterday tea-time. Bear with me while I attempt to explain the rules of the game – it is relevant.
The show asks 100 people to give answers to a particular question, for example ‘name as many top ten chart singles by Simply Red as you can’. The contestants then have to come up with their own answers that are both correct and obscure – ie the ones that the 100 people didn’t think of.
Points are awarded from zero to 100 depending on how many people matched your answer and the object of the game is to get the lowest score, ideally finding those pointless answers.
I hope that is clear (simple quiz shows can be awfully complicated) because one of the posers yesterday was to name government cabinet ministers from 1997 to 2010, excluding Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
Setting aside the couple who thought that Ken Clarke and Boris Johnson might have served in a Labour government, the question demonstrated just how pointless politicians are in most people’s lives.
Only seven people thought to name Jack Straw who was one of only three MPs to serve in the cabinet for the whole 13 year period. Alistair Darling was another of the three, but again only seven people thought him worthy of remembering. (The last of that trio was Gordon Brown.)
Mo Mowlam, who played such a part in bringing peace to Ireland, was named by just one person, half the number who thought of Claire Short despite her resignation on a point of principle over the Iraq War.
But most telling was the list of ‘pointless’ politicians. It was a long one and I’ll give just a few: Andy Burnham, Margaret Beckett, Donald Dewar, Patricia Hewitt, Frank Dobson, Geoff Hoon, Alan Milburn and Jack Cunningham. *
All of them ‘political heavyweights’ whose mark on the public consciousness scores precisely zero. It’s a sobering thought for those who seek office to find their place in history. As opposed to the ones who are just in it for the money.
Bradford may have been a sign of public disillusionment with politics in general, and politicians in particular, but for a real wake-up call, Cameron, Clegg and Miliband should watch more quiz shows.
* In case you’re wondering, the top scorer was John Prescott with 15 which goes to show that thumping a member of the electorate is one way to boost your rating as an MP.