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Osborne inspires apathy at BBC Leeds

Posted on 6 October 2009 | 4:10pm

Call me a saddo, but I was determined to watch George Osborne’s speech live. In the media age,this ought to have been straightforward.

I left Sheffield, where I was picking up a 50k cheque from Dransfield Properties for Leukamia Research’s Big 5-0 campaign, at eleven, with an hour to get to Leeds. I made it to the West Yorkshire Playhouse, where I was due to speak at a conference later today, with a bit of time to spare. But though we found a TV, we couldn’t find an aerial socket.

Not to worry, said the conference organiser (whose company, incidentally, is called ‘Don’t Panic’,) the local BBC studios are a few doors away. As it happens, I was due to do an interview there at some point today anyway, so we rushed over, relieved at least to know that I would be able to see Osborne live and in full glorious technicolour.

Or so I thought … nobody seemed to be watching. A presenter tried to help me by getting a TV on the wall switched to the Conference live coverage, but couldn’t get it to work. He went off to find an engineer while someone else helped me get it on a desktop. Bingo. I missed the first few minutes but I caught most of it.

But as the speech went on, I grew increasingly distracted by what was happening around me. Or at least, by something that wasn’t happening around me. Nobody else was watching.

Now I know it was a busy BBC office and doubtless all the people in there were all working on this, that and the other. But given the build up, not least on the Beeb, given the polls and the commonly expressed view that this man will be the next Chancellor, given the current debate over cuts in public spending, I was genuinely shocked that I appeared to be the only person is this news-orientated environment who was remotely interested in what he had to say.

On one level, I found the experience rather dispiriting. I always find apathy about politics dispiriting. But as a Labour man, as opposed to a politics man, I was rather cheered by it. First, it confirmed the dearth of charisma at the top of the Tory Party. Second, it confirmed me in the view that the support expressed for the Tories in polls is an expression less of interest and enthusiasm for them than in general disgruntlement about life or Labour. Third, it said to me that for all that their colleagues in the rest of the media think it is a foregone conclusion that this man is the next Chancellor – if so this was the equivalent of a shadow pre-Budget report – then they did not.

It was then fascinating to feeel the contrast between the excitement of those covering the conference inside the media bubble at Manchester with the extraordinary indifference of their colleagues in Leeds.

As for the speech, well a great orator he ain’t. He also has a very annoying habit of saying ‘wanna’, which is either slovenly or a lame attempt to get down with the yoof. Either way, he should desist. As for the content, it was more about addressing perceived weaknesses rather than confidently setting out an agenda of his own.

Cutting MPs? Easy hit. Cutting their salaries? Easy hit, and another step towards the kind of politics for toffs only that he, Dave and Boris want. Pay freeze? Appearing tough while signalling they don’t want to hurt the poorest. Yeah, like they never did that kind of thing before. Pension changes? Felt like it was unrvelling during the day. That one will be part of a big and ongoing debate. Supporting marriage in the tax system? They loved that in the hall. Keeping winter fuel payments and free TV licences for the elderly? May as well keep the party that brought them in if you ask me, Reversing the raid on pensions? Sounded like a long grass job. Claim to have earned the trust of the people on the economy? Says who George? Don’t believe everything you read in the polls.

He had a go at The Big Lie told by Labour about their desire savagely to cut public services. But he had a Big Lie of his own. Ok, not a Big Lie, a Big Joke … that the Tories are the party of the NHS. Never were, never are, never will be.

  • Jane A

    A thoughtful journalist this week might mail all the Tory MPs offices and see how many subscribe to private healthcare, under Freedom of Information. That might be a good barometer for their hands-on experience of the improvements in the NHS since 1997. Of course, if they’ve all been using BUPA, they probably think its still as they left it in May 97…

  • iain ker

    ‘…the dearth of charisma at the top of the Tory Party’

    Self-awareness not your strong point then, Al?

    BBC staff should have been watching – they might have got the hint that yes even they are ‘cuttable’.

  • David Goodman

    Agree that Osborne will never be a good speaker but did the job. On the whole, while you’ll never admit it, it’s been a good day for the Tories. Real substantial policy as opposed to Labour spin.

  • Megan

    This sounds rather like wishful thinking on your part Alastair.
    I agree about the ‘wanna’, but the words pot , kettle & black spring to mind. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve felt like throwing my slipper at the tv when listening to various well educated Labour ministers using glottal stops.

  • AC

    Apologies to anyone who was at the event I spoke at this afternoon at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, where I said I had written a blog on George Osborne in the dressing room but it went into the ether when I hit the send button. I re-did it afterwards and then discovered it had not gone to the ether but landed on the site. However I had not tweeted it or Facebook status-updated it. oh God it is so complicated. Not been a good day on the techno front having earlier accidentally half-tweeted a message which read ‘The Tories are the party of the N’. Amazing how people made serious comments in response. I had meant to say ‘Osborne says the Tories are the party of the NHS. And Burnley won last year’s Champions League.’

  • Charlie S

    I did watch his speech and he found him strangely repellent. These are oldfashioned Tories pretending to be something they are not. The more people see of them the more hopeful i become

  • Philip

    Exactly true. I went to Manchester and found that the nasty party was alive and well. They will chase an ideological goal of small government in the name of a balanced budget. The biggest truth in your blog is that the polls express an anti-Labour, not pro-Tory vote. It means this isn’t over. Privately, some of our senior figures have been going around crying ‘doomed, doomed’ and I was tempted to agree. But not anymore. We can still beat this lot. Alastair, please go and give our cabinet a collective boot up the backside and and get them to put a fight up. This is the rumble in the jungle.

  • Twitterer

    Osborne has the charisma of a Tsetse fly. But that still pales into comparison to all the other nasty business going down today.

    The arrival at the conference of those two men from the Far Right Alliance in Europe and what that says about the Conservatives and their policies, is the question the British voters should be asking.

    I do get shivers just thinking about it.

  • Twitterer Again

    On the topic of Obsborne. I can’t quite put my finger on it but there’s just something so shady about the man. Don’t go calling me Mystic Meg just yet, but I feel it’s something we’ll find out only in the future. A gut instinct if you like. Anyway…!

  • Alan Quinn

    The tories have spent weeks going on about the doomsday debt scenario, so much so even Romper Room Control had to try and out cut them at our conference.
    What did they promise to do? Bugger all, it accounts to £7 billion, so something tells me they are not telling all of the story, no mention of Georgeous George’s £30 billion of defence cuts when he first trumpeted them on Sept 16th either.

    As for we’re all in this together I’ve just had a look at the register of member’s interests on the parliament website.Billy 16 pints clocked up at least £90k in giving speeches, cutting his salary as an MP won’t bother him.

    Perhaps Romper Room Control could think of legislation where as an MP you receice a salary only with no outside interests allowed. That would put off many tories from standing as MPs and then we we might be all in it together.

  • David Kingston

    The BBC’s tory friendly Nick Robinson commented on the 6 o’clock news tonight that Osborne’s speech included gambles that would alienate some groups in the hope that more would be encouraged and not affected (I think that’s a reasonable summary). Given that they are so close to an election it is interesting that they are struggling to get above 40% in the opinion polls. Prospective new governments conventionally need to be out of sight in the polls as voters get concerned about changing their minds in the run up to polling day. Perhaps they do need to gamble to consolidate their position.

    Interestingly did anyone else notice that BBC Breakfast carried their interview with Dave this morning before either his or George’s keynote speeches (unkike GB)? There was no speech content to challenge (unlike GB) and he was able to trot out his current mantra about waiting to here what will be announced. He was barely even pressed on this, nor was interupted repeatedly before he could get more than 3 or 4 words into an answer (unlike GB). Timing, location (studio not cluttered conference floor), lack of challenge all seem to confirm the media narrative that election is a forgone conclusion. Opinion poll data and history might suggest differently. Our independent media need to step back and reassess how they are approaching this most important of stories.

  • betty curtis

    We must fight these Tories
    Osborne is out of his depth—He didn’t write that speech-What a worry for us all if they get elected—He looks ab

    I can’t believe the media reports and the support the Tories are getting—

  • catherine

    emjoyed your presentation at cipr conference in leeds. would have been great to hear further thoughts on tories given indifference to GO’s speech today. i’ve seen clips on the news – i thought it was dull and lacklustre. no smiles allowed orders of DC.

  • Ed Faulkner

    I agree the Tories are insecure on policy and presentation. How about a strong fightback starting now and snap election before Christmas?

  • Djunfitforwork

    As a disabled person not in the media-political “loop”- I disagree about the content being “underwhelming”. Unless you know something I don”t about the contents of The Pre-Budget Report -it looks like 4 or 5 million non-rich people were promised real cuts in wages and benefits -make that 7 if you include us “Pariahs” -the ppl on incapacity benefits -many of who will be forced into situations that cause them to relapse or get more ill both physically and mentally. So -7 millions losers (in the economic sense ppl!) under The Tories -even as they hide their main cards close to their chests.

  • Judith Haire

    Even on my very worst days (today’s been one of them) I try to logg off on a positive note.
    Non Nobis Dominee
    prob got spelling wrong but’s it’s been a very long day
    so to wrap it all up before I get some shut eye I will just say

  • declan

    Maybe Manchester BBC was `buzzin’ was due to the conference being local news – as for Leeds – the focus was on Local news – i.e. George Osborne wasn’t really that important to me or the people wanting local news – which is what I want sat in my house in Leeds at 6.30. Now the national news is a different matter – I would expect the Tory conference to be the lead story – you live in a bubble …I live in Leeds…I want my BBC reporters to be working on local issues and stories…