Awards of the Year 2005… Part I

by Stephen Tall on December 28, 2005

‘Tis the season of no news… I mean, c’mon on, the top three stories this week are: It’s a bit chilly; shops sell cheap stuff; and fox-hunting, saboteurs, loopholes, blah blah. It’s just dull.

So I’m afraid I’m not inspired to pen some trenchant opinion piece, crammed full of wise words, and laced with shrewd liberal acuity. Instead you’re getting what every other newspaper is serving up as left-overs to tide their readers over with glad tidings. Yes, it’s the inevitable Best/Worst Hits/Misses Treats/Turkeys [will this do? – Ed.] Awards of 2005, divided into two perfect halves for your reading relish.

* First up, we have the JONATHAN ROSS AWARD FOR UBIQUITY, given in recognition of the countless acts of self-promotion which this past year has witnessed.

There were many contenders for this prize, all (as you would expect) self-nominated. From the world of entertainment, both Catherine Tate and Little Britain were strong challengers, their repetitive catchphrases having won a devoted following in playgrounds and among sub-editors across the country. Did they triumph? “Computer says no.” And I’m so not bovvered.

Dan Brown should, by rights, have won for his tome, The Da Vinci Code, a book which has now sold more copies than there are people able to read. (And yet still it tops the bestsellers lists: is there anyone left who wants a copy who’s not yet read it? ‘Cos if so, they can have mine.) Unfortunately, he was cruelly denied by a shadowy, undercover organisation, which goes by the nickname Good Taste, which has successfully perpetuated a canonical hierarchy which conceals from sight the worst excesses of bad writing.

Which left only one possible winner: Robert Kilroy-Slick. For one man with so little talent, so little charm, and so little clue to get elected under one political party’s colours; attempt to become its leader; resign in a perma-tanned huff in order to self-start his own new, even smaller, party; which implodes within six months; prompting him to split from his own creation… Well, that all takes a special and peculiar kind of egotism. His love of bathing in the glare of publicity with all the self-knowing naivety of Icarus may just explain a tan known in the trade as Monkhouse-plus. His pale imitation of Oswald Mosley’s messianism was drably, inevitably, hubristically pathetic, and proved (pace Churchill) that re-ratting does not take any kind of ingenuity.

* From the ridiculous to the subliminal. The second prize is the IDS AWARD FOR NONENTITY OF THE YEAR, bestowed on those Quiet Men who promised much but then kept that promise well hidden.

Turn the clock back a month, and the nation was girding its collective loin in readiness for a booze-fuelled conflagration of beered-up young people letting rip in our city centres following the introduction of new licensing laws. And yet, to date, the amount of binge being drunk has not resulted in the kind of apocalypse too many tabloid editors (and MPs from all parties) were gloomily prophesying. Of course, the British still have a huge drinking problem, our lives seemingly having no meaning unless an inhibition-shedding intoxicant is coursing round our bloodstreams so that we can wake up the next day with a cast-iron alibi of deniability: “Did I really do that? I must have been so wasted.” But to think that every pub chucking out piss-heads onto our streets at the same time each night was any kind of answer to this problem is absurd. Our society’s warped attitude to alcohol seems to expect the government to remove the speck from our own eyes, so that we don’t have to worry about the beam which still blinds us.

Another dog which failed to bark was the G8 summit to make poverty history. For all Sir Bob Geldof’s protestations that the world’s leaders, under his tutelage, had committed themselves to a deal which would end want in a world of surplus, the truth at the end of the year couldn’t be clearer: our politicians, and the voters they represent, are willing to help the developing world only so long as there is no negative impact on our own way of life. Proof of Europe’s complicity in the obscene trade tariffs which cripple poorer countries arrived with the setting of this month’s EU budget for 2007-13. In spite of Mr Blair’s pleas, and the sacrifice of part of the infamous British rebate, the Common Agricultural Policy – which gobbles up 40% of Europe’s entire €862bn expenditure by subsidising large, rich farmers – is intact for years to come. Africa’s plight remains a scar on the conscience of the world: 2005 simply applied a band-aid.

But the trophy for the Quiet Man award must go to this third-term Labour Government. It is only 31 weeks since Mr Blair scored his historic hat-trick of election victories – albeit with the support of just 36% of those who voted – and with it a mandate to implement his hefty 112-page manifesto, Forward Not Back. And yet his Government’s heart just does not seem to be in it. Those policies which are put forward – whether Ruth Kelly’s education reforms, or Patricia Hewitt’s health proposals – are met with either apathy or antipathy, even from their own back-benches. The reason is simple. Mr Blair has recognised that the only way to embed improvement in the public services is to create markets so that scarce resources can be prioritised. The problem is that his party (and all too often my own) baulk at the very notion of markets. It’s far more comfortable instead simply to argue that more money is always needed; and to pretend that words like efficiency and productivity are evil right-wing euphemisms, rather than tools for getting value for taxpayers’ money. The Labour Party, drugged by Mr Blair’s success, is now being dragged by its leader in a direction they loathe. Prepare for the whiplash, prepare for the Whips’ lash.

* BThe final prize of this half’s entertainment is the BILL CLINTON AWARD FOR THE COMEBACK OF THE YEAR, given in honour of those born in Hope who have come full circle.

First up, are two fictional heroes whose resurrections were heartily cheered. Personally, I’ve always liked the idea of Dr Who more than the reality. It evokes in me a comfy nostalgia of Saturday nights in the early 1980s: a little boy keenly anticipating being scared while lying in front of the fire after my bath. But I’ve tried watching those episodes since, and their cardboard campery leave me bored. And I’m afraid not even Christopher Ecclestone’s re-generation as the ninth Doctor did it for me. He seemed to me just too thespy, too try-hard, too keen to show that he was bigger and better than the show. But, on the strength of David Tennant’s Christmas Day debut, I’m going to give it another go: the storyline was taut, the scripting sharp, and the acting superb. (Killed by a satsuma… Even better than Dirty Den’s original ‘Death by Daffodils’.)

And then there’s Harry Potter, who scored a double whammy with the release of The Half Blood Prince (or Episode VI, as I like to think of it), followed by the fourth film, Goblet of Fire. Both were a return to form after disappointing predecessors, and I am now on unabashed tenterhooks for the final reckoning. Accio Episode VII!

Back in the real world of public affairs, two men were in serious contention for this Comeback Award. Jamie Oliver has transformed himself in the space of just two years from the annoyingly chirpy, cheeky, chippy Naked Chef, whose smug Sainsbury’s ads ratcheted up the profits of Tesco, to being feted as the culinary world’s answer to Sir Bob. First there was Fifteen, his daringly entrepreneurial effort to train up a group of young people plucked from disadvantaged backgrounds and empower them to make his restaurant a success. Then came his crusade against the appalling nutritional poverty of school meals – at least as much of an indictment of our parents, as it was the inadequacy of government funding – which spurred the Government to inject an extra £280m into the system before you could say ‘turkey twizzler’. Now, to cap it all, he has given this nation the most precious gift that was in his power to bestow: his Flavour Shaker, which “crushes, grinds, blends, mixes and more!” How any of us have managed to prepare a meal without one is a mystery only future social historians will have sufficient objectivity to be able to answer.

The winner, though, is David Blunkett, whose brave homage to Peter Mandelson – a swift return to the Cabinet followed by an equally prompt dismissal – mixed tragedy with farce. His directorship of, and shareholdings in, DNA Bioscience were not criminal, nor were they breaches of the ministerial code of practice. But Mr Blunkett’s decision during the middle of an election campaign to join the board of a company about to bid for government contracts without bothering to seek clearance from the relevant advisory committee showed such crashingly inept misjudgement that he had only himself to blame for his swift dispatch. The Comeback Kid will not come back again, and so it seems fitting that the Award should be his.

* Click back here again in the next few days to find out who are the runners and riders for the second and final batch of awards.