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Author: Alan Shipman

Stranger than science fiction: party's pledges lost in space

Updated Monday, 18th November 2013
As the Conservative Party airbrushes the last decade of speeches from its website, Alan Shipman offers a sneak preview of Gravity 4, the hit space movie’s four-dimensional sequel, in which Sandra Bullock will fall through a time-warp and encounter a terrifying black hole ...

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A cartoon gently mocks the Gravity movie, where the Bullock jumps over the Clooney "This is the easiest blockbuster we've ever been in, George. It's all so wonderfully scripted. They said no-one could make a film that just involves two parties, with all the action confined to one small political space. But these are such great lines. Look, here's Disraeli – he gave us whole novels to quote from. Including one where he splits the whole nation into two, and makes pretty clear that the Duke of Wellington bumped off his political enemies. And Robert Peel – so quotable! 'The distinction of being without an honour is becoming a rare and valuable one, and should not become extinct.'  No wonder he wrote such good songlines for The Police. 

"Hold it, Sandra – we just have to pause for a special effect. The Director wants you to shoot from one side of the Westminster Bubble to the other, while falling from the 19th into the 20th Century." 

"Oh, it gets even better in the 20th Century. Churchill gave his biographers an easy time because he compiled all the notes. 'History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it' – his war records are still in print, and to this day they mine his collected speeches for pithy quotes. And as for Lady Thatcher – she left over a million items in the archive, including the famous handbag."  

"But you gotta bring us up to date. What happens at the start of the 21st Century?" 

"Oh ... George, this is scary. I can't see anything. Help! The whole political record has gone blank. We're in a total void. Between the year 2000 and May 2010, there's no trace of any speeches."

"Not even from Cosmonaut Cameron?"

"Not a word. Nor from any of his senior colleagues."

 "That's impossible, How can it be? They had the internet by then. Every Tom, Sir Roderick and cabinet minister was recording his-or-her political opinions, on screen as well as in words. How can that ten-year stretch before the Coalition just vanish without trace?"

"I've looked everywhere. But the Conservative website has been emptied of pre-election speeches. The independent internet archivists have been forced to expunge their records. The web-sweeping robots are turned back. Even the British Library records can only be accessed through special terminals, light-years away from where we are in cyberspace."

"It's chilling. This means we're completely adrift, with no idea of how we got here. Where did our political masters plan to take us? What was their strategy – and what promises did they make? Without that knowledge, we'll never be able to rescue ourselves, and get back on the inter-stellar course we were so disastrously deflected from. How could it happen? Did their political enemies lob a worm into their website?" 

"No, it seems they did the deletion themselves. To give people quicker and easier access to current information. And, I guess, to avoid reminding them what they were promised before."

"Well, it makes them seem more forward-looking – if there's nothing to look back on. But everyone knows that a statecraft with no retro-rockets is fatally unstable. How do we repair this gaping hole in the space-time continuum? Can we borrow from the port side to patch up this damage to starboard?" 

"Oh, there's plenty preserved on the left. They don't like deleting any of their speeches. Most are stillquoting Keir Hardie and Nye Bevin half a century later – it spares them the risk of any flatlines. There was a worrying moment in under Blair when the two sides start sounding exactly the same. But Blair's business empire eventually spawned a record label that sold millions of copies – even of embarrassments like 'stakeholder society' and 'hand of history' – so there's no danger of his expostulations being expunged. And Kinnock, Smith, Brown, the Two Eds: they left behind more words than anyone could safely listen to."

 "It's tempting, but I can't do it. If we try to replace all that lost Conservative rhetoric with texts from another political ecosystem – however convergent – we risk upsetting the whole cosmic balance."

"Then there's only one way out. I'll have to use a computational algorithm to reconstruct that lost decade of declarations. Inferring what they said, from what they subsequently did."

"That sounds incredibly dangerous. And it's never worked in the past. Could you please do a pilot-test first?"

"Okay. But I must warn you – even if we try this out on a small scale, any discrepancy between the reconstructed speech and the real one will cause an instant, catastrophic explosion."

"It's our last hope. We'll just have to trust that these politicians' deeds stayed true to their words." 

"The machinery is running. Here's George Osborne: ‘I intend to keep increasing the public debt, until it's over 90% of national income' )."

(Cue violent rumbling and shaking of the capsule). 

"And the prime minister himself: ‘there is no loss of sovereignty in the Lisbon Treaty, so a referendum on the EU isn't needed until 2017'.

(Cue dizzying somersaults, Bullock jumping over Clooney, as explosions rock the stricken rocket).    

"And Andrew Lansley: 'I shall order the biggest top-down reorganisation of the NHS since it was founded'."

(The screen splits into a thousand 3D fragments and goes thunderously blank.)

"Er, Alfonso – I think we just deleted any chance of doing Gravity 5."

This blog post is part of Society Matters. The blog seeks to inform, stimulate and challenge our understanding of this changing world and of our humbling role within it.
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Please note: The opinions expressed in Society Matters posts are those of the individual authors, and do not represent the views of The Open University.


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