The General Election is hotting up. The airwaves are thick with politicians saying, 'So, what the people want is...', the dots then being filled with whatever the speaker requires them to want. Or they are saying things like, 'Look, Jeremy's been perfectly clear about that...', the dots then being filled with something perfectly incomprehensible. The need for a survival technique is becoming ever more pressing.
Unfortunately, my earlier advice on surviving the Brexit debate is unsuitable for this purpose. That was based on negativity in that it required finding even more horrible things to think about. However, it has not been possible to find anything more horrible than this General Election. Consequently, I have had to devise a new escape technique. This is based on positivity. That is to say, rather than suffering
from the General Election, you instead elect to enjoy
it. In other words, you make fun of it.
I am aware that Peter Cook's observation about 'those wonderful Berlin cabarets that did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the outbreak of the Second World War', reminds us that satire is ineffectual. That's right, but only in the sense that it has no effect on wider political outcomes. But it is not right at an individual level. Satire makes us feel good. It ameliorates our impotent frustration. It makes us laugh.
Sadly, though, we have no satire now. Even with the current field of politicians being probably the most target-rich in history, we seem to have abandoned satire in favour of clever asides in panel shows and observational humour: my how hilarious it is to discover too late that there's no toilet paper. In such a climate, we must take charge ourselves and generate the necessary satire in our own heads.
The way to do this is to place your subjects into scenarios bearing a resemblance to known facts and then to distort it with alternative but feasible facts. Normally, the way to illustrate any new technique would be through the easiest examples. In terms of satire-worthiness, the most obvious examples are, of course, Donald Trump and Jacob Rees-Mogg. Regrettably, however, they cannot be used since they have already wrong-footed all would-be satirists by doing it to themselves. Moreover, their material is of such extraordinarily high quality that it could hardly be improved upon.
Let us instead turn to Jeremy Corbyn for an illustration. In fact, he can be paired up with Diane Abbott, thus yielding two for the price of one. There they are, cycling around idyllic communist East Germany, on their way from Leipzig to Dresden. Diane has plotted the route and calculated that it would take a whole day to cover the 42,000 miles between the two cities. Five days later, they arrive in Chemnitz where they have dinner together. It is a candle-lit affair, the local electricity grid having failed. Their eyes meet tellingly over the boiled cabbage. Sweat beading on his forehead, Jeremy hastily calls for the bill and pulls out a bundle of East German Marks, each note barely worth the potato it was printed with.
Behind the wall mirror in the bedroom, Stasi agents huddle round a cine camera. Jeremy has just returned from the bathroom two floors below. 'Who needs hot water anyway?' he says. 'It's so bourgeois.' He eyes Diane hungrily through the oil-lamp smoke as he approaches the bed. Though hand-picked for their resilience, the Stasi agents suddenly recall other urgent duties that must be attended to. They return the following morning just in time to witness Diane's struggle to pluck Jeremy out of the mattress.
For the sake of political balance, it is now necessary to turn to the Conservatives. My first thought was to place Boris Johnson in a romantic situation similar to that of Jeremy and Diane. However, it proved impossible to capture a ménage à cinq in only 1,000 words. Instead, I have had to turn to the Soviet Union of 1935.
Comrade Johnson, Politburo Chairman and First Secretary of the Party, is sitting at his desk in the Kremlin. Comrade Gove, Minister for Information, is standing before him. Johnson takes a pen from the pocket of his ill-fitting Soviet suit and makes to write something on the papers in front of him, but the pen doesn't work. Exasperated, he leans back and runs his fingers through a hairstyle that appears to have been fashioned by Ken Dodd.
Comrade Johnson is not happy: tractor production and shipbuilding each down by 75% in a year; concrete production down by 60%; grain yields down by 65%; sexual assault up by 50%. The hundreds of items on the list all show similar unwelcome shifts. Johnson fixes his gaze on the Minister for Information. 'Comrade Bluebottle ..,' he says, using his name for Gove when he is dissatisfied with him, '..this is not good.' Alarmed, the Minister for Information shifts nervously. But he need not worry, for Uncle Bo is inclined only to dispose of people who show any degree of competence.
Comrade Gove, his own Soviet hairstyle seemingly the result of his head being passed between two upright cylinder lawnmowers, agrees. He assures the First Secretary that the officials who produced the figures would soon be in the Lubyanka where the KGB would find them guilty of sabotage before exiling them to Siberia. Both men know that the figures are in fact slightly better than last year's actual figures but that last year's figures, like all Soviet figures, had been either multiplied or divided by a factor of 10, depending on whether greater or smaller numbers would be preferable. In First Secretary Johnson's Soviet Union, everything is true except the facts.
If all this fails, consolation may be found in the knowledge that weird governments and their weird countries never last long. The Soviet Union managed only 70 years, East Germany barely 45 and the Third Reich only 13. The problem is that they can do an awful lot of lasting damage in the meantime.