I suppose you’ve seen it already, but if you haven’t, here’s your chance before we continue.
Not many people seemed to have liked this very much. I have to say that I do. Here’s why. For a parody, it has high production values – this goes without saying, of course. But more importantly, while the Cabinet and ministers in question are virtually recognisable, what’s most important is that they’re not entirely similar to their real-life counterparts. Why is this important? Because, quite subliminally, it transmits in a memorably visual way the idea that something is subtly out of kilter here. For starters, the whole idea that a radical membership like that which has constituted the Lib Dems in the traditional past can get coherently into bed with Tories like these. That Cameron doesn’t look very much like Cameron, nor Clegg very much like Clegg, nor Gove exactly like the man we have come to despise, only underlines the truism that Coalition Britain is a reality quite amiss. A reality which doesn’t fit exactly anywhere.
Secondly, the frame of this parody – 1950s Cold War newsreel and cinema – places the viewer with any idea of fairly recent British history in a most uncomfortable position: that is to say, Coalition Britain (well, now clearly out-and-out Tory Britain, if we must be brutally honest) is reversing us way back to the land of post-war Labour rationing and privation – only this time the war that has been fought (which we supposedly emerge from) has been (and continues to be) a civil one conducted by governing parties on the nation’s people themselves.
Finally, and here’s the really brainy bit, “The Un-credible Shrinking Man” isn’t really a critique of the Lib Dem voters themselves. It manages, instead, to ingeniously sidestep such potential alienation. After all, what’s gone fundamentally wrong with the Coalition – if we are to believe the subtext of what I feel is a very clever Party Election Broadcast (maybe too clever by half – we shall see somewhere down the line) – is not that Clegg and his membership didn’t have the right policies but, rather, far more importantly, when they had the tactical advantage to do so, they didn’t have the gumption or courage to implement their belief system as they could have done.
Instead, they have allowed themselves through a four-year process of political osmosis to lay waste to a whole society in a way that even Thatcher and Blair’s neoliberal button-pressing worst (and here we must recognise that it was never only neoliberal button-pressing) simply didn’t get close to.
Yes. Neoliberalism redefined, perhaps. A “new liberalism” is what I mean, with even less of the liberal than we have become accustomed to witnessing.
Thus it is that the “The Un-credible Shrinking Man” is not so much a negative diatribe against awful throwbacks to our political past as a warning of what is shortly to come, should we as a nation choose to vote unwisely at the next general election. It doesn’t look back at all but fearfully forwards to a future we may still make.
So whilst filmed to look as if it’s a historical document, we would do well to remember that history does tend to repeat itself. And that, my dear friends, is the real message today from Labour.
Don’t let it happen. Rise above history. Make this future different.