Once upon a time, when the world was young, Malcolm worked out how to write audience-pleasers.
His audience then were the academics, the teachers, the lecturers and the professors who would opine on his laboured thoughts, and respond with a simple — usually disappointing — grade and a cryptic — usually demoralising — comment.
The strategy Malcolm evolved (and he boasts it was self-devised and taught by nobody) amounted to:
- having an eye-opener opener, which could be reprised in the closing sentence or two;
- which opener would employ a knowing literary animadversion (though Robert E. Howard’s pulp fiction, or Robert A. Heinlein, both as above, would neither be a good choice, at least for that audience);
- a use of well-chosen, precise and extended vocabulary, though not so much to be pretentious;
- marshalling expression as tri-partite Ciceronian expressions;
- deliberately opposing constructions, by use of colons, by antitheses and by jarring shifts of style.
That’ll do for the time being.
Some of those techniques may persist in his writing to his present senility.
James Kirkup, with his politics blog for the Telegraph, is up to similar tricks.
He starts one effort today:
Gay marriage and David Cameron: what he could learn from Conan the Barbarian
There’s a scene from the first season of the West Wing when Josh Lyman tells President Bartlet: “We talk about enemies more than we used to.”
It’s either touching or cloying, depending on your perspective, but either way, it touches on an essential truth of politics: to govern is to make enemies. For better or for worse, the exercise of power is almost always a zero-sum game. Every choice you make will make someone happy and someone else unhappy.
Any friend of Josh is invited to be a friend of Malcolm.
The rest of Kirkup’s neat little essay has some nice throw-aways:
… Gordon Brown, a man who could write several books about political feuds and political enemies. Mr Brown’s view of political dissent was formed in the unforgiving world of Scottish Labour, whose culture was once described as “Dog eat dog, and vice versa.” Despite the odd appeal to the punters, the Brown approach to enemies was built on machine politics and sheer aggression, a willingness to demolish utterly those who stood in his way.
Sometimes, to speak to Team Brown was to be put in mind of a line from Conan the Barbarian, when Conan is asked: “What is good in life?”
Kirkup, a bit naughtily Malcolm feels, is citing the film there, not the text.
Is that admiration or criticism, young James?
Let us trip lightly over Kirkup on the (ambiguous?) motives of Tim Loughton and his civil-partnership amendment. In the context, clearly Kirkup sees a malevolence here.
Instead let us relish Kirkup’s closure:
Anyone in power for any time will find themselves, like Josh, talking about enemies. Mr Cameron and his friends need to do more than talk. They need to think of something to do about those enemies, and soon.
Hug them close. Bribe them. Charm them. Go over their heads. Kill them all and plough their fields with salt. What’s the best choice? It’s not clear. But one thing is clear: ignoring your enemies won’t make them go away.
In any political generation there may be just the singular political spadassinicide [woo ! woo! Sabatini gets a look in! Change of genre, Malcolm!]. One who could be wholly ruthless, as alien as a Martian … as real as taxes but he was a race of one [which gets back to the Heinlein: sneaky, huh? And you were expecting Conan].