29 March 2011

Labour's #sp11 peril: political schadenfreude...

The thick, circulating air smells of chalk. Desks are regimented before a dowdy looking gentleman who is etching parallel bars of white across the blackboard. All in the room, save him, are dressed in the same way. At the front, there sits a pert little customer. Her notes are orderly, handwriting immaculate. She is mediocre, and she is top of the class. It is a position she retains, year on year, with the sceptical eyes of her fellows always on the back of her tidily arranged head, the smell of the lamp forever about her. Her answers are unimaginative, in debate she is dreary, but it is of no consequence. In personality, she is a natural spy and informer for authority, full of conceit, without lightness or grace. This does nothing to sweeten her nature, but added honey to the mirth when her hopes collapsed. As universities are wont to do, stringent conditions were required of her if she was to be admitted, a transcript spattered with A grades. 

Examinations were taken, and gluey days of waiting slid by; results came. These were A' levels, so the heavy letter would have to be picked up from her school, rather than clattering through her letterbox at home. She strode towards the bundle of envelopes with her usual confidence, signed her name, the administrator giving her an encouraging wee smile as she presented  her with the one with her name on it. Prying open the paper, she pulled out the correspondence and stood staring stunned for a moment or two. The tears came as a welter, she hit the deck, a cruel, hope-foiling "C" squinting up at her from the page of results. Fellow pupils looked on, but their eyes were without sympathy. Only politeness kept the tingling satisfactions of schandenfreude in their bellies from showing in their faces. The school was soon full of a glee that this disliked figure had been found out. All is as it should be, they thought, and were soon toasting their own achievements.

Schadenfreude is a favoured loanword for good reasons. Glee in the misfortune of others can be exceedingly ugly. However there are some people - and I'd argue - some movements, who positively invite general satisfaction when their best laid plans unravel and fray disastrously. It has stuck me for a good while that the Labour Party in the 2011 Holyrood election are potentially, potentially, a very good candidate for the satisfactions of political schadenfreude. Like the fictional swot sketched in my little tale, the party is in poll position for no discernible good reason, has not and is not putting in the running to run to triumph. Iain Gray may declaim that he's "serious, very serious" all he likes, but he has presided over a relentlessly frivolous, vacuous opposition in Holyrood, exemplified by the late magpie approach to policy development. Labour's "policy blitz" was to crack open the SNP armoury and kit themselves out in the same gear. Gray's front benches are replete with mediocrities and political chancers, whose primarily talents involve maintaining the lustre of their brass necks.  Even those skeptical about the Nationalists are mostly willing to concede that the balance of mediocrity finds Labour the heavier. 

Yesterday saw Weber's Sandwich's Scotland Votes debate, on the economy. Andy Kerr had all the poise of a perspiring, innumerate cuttlefish, presented with an abacus and invited to subtract three from four. He slapped a gooey tendril over a number of fiscal issues, but was by far the least assured, least convincing performer, being outdone by sober Swinney, Derek Brownlee and even the salaciously-named, marmalade-stained Liberal finance spokesman, Jammy Pervs. Particularly implausible, I thought, was this moist cephalopod's dark hints that he did not believe the Glasgow Airport Rail link had been cancelled for financial reasons. I doubt even Kerr believes such palpable guff, with its bizarre implication that the Edinburgh-born Swinney derives some sort of demented pleasure at the idea of mahogany-tanned Glaswegians, ideally heavy-laden with luggage, struggling to reach town when they return from their holidays. His own rank cynicism despite, Kerr seems to thinks that the voting public is sufficiently credulous to believe such fevered tales.

Labour itself is clearly conscious of the risks associated with becoming the dislikeable favourite, and have been avoiding looking too gleeful at the run of decent polls. Indeed, while their overall message has been "come home to Labour", that phrase has been conspicuous by its absence. A wise move, you might think, given its patronising connotations. Alex Salmond, canny old political villain that he is, clearly recognises the political potential of this and has been making stabs at framing the competition in terms likely to foster a Schadenfreudige attitude towards the poll-placed Labour Party. I'm not necessarily arguing that there will be an eruption of malicious glee against them in May's Holyrood election. While the public has the means to humble them in their own hands, I remain of the view that this election remains too close to call. However, as the dreary lassie in the story learned, while there are momentary pleasures in being a undeserving favourite - and in Labour's case, in the anticipation slipping into office despite yourself, by the charms of your inactivity - it isn't necessarily as comfortable a position as you might imagine. Both are left terribly vulnerable to reaction, and to schadenfreude.


  1. You are so cruel and so brilliant all in one. I don't think that description of Mr Kerr can actually be bettered. He certainly wasn't on top of his brief and was outshone by everybody.

    I think Jeremy did really well - his contribution was deeply rooted in practicality and I thought he was best when he spoke against the "political power grab to the centre". Of course I'm biased.

    I thought Kenny Farquharson was good needling them out of their comfort zone at times and excellent at trying to extract skeletons from closets. He should actually do stuff on radio or tv.

  2. Jammy Pervs, moist cephalopods and gooey tendrils - you're on fine form, LPW. Great analogy for Labour's position too. It reminds me of one of my sister's peers at school who was like that girl but also had a habit of stealing things from her "friends", like Barbie clothes and little trinkets, in order to get people's attention. Sounds even more familiar...

    If Labour don't win this election (and I do so hope that happens), I'll gloat like I've never gloated before. Schadenfreude may have negative connotations, but sometimes it is completely warranted.

  3. Caul blows the angst of man, whose sloth has led to angst and trepidation that neither gain nor loss can quench only insanity.

  4. A description of Labour's financial mollusc that will be indelibly inked on my imagination for far too long.

    Perhaps not the full shadenfreude but I used to have a fearsome little blue and white budgie - Donald - who viciously nipped lumps out of his cuttlebone to keep his beak in peak trim - if all goes well in May I will think of Donald as Mr Swinney chisels home his bugdetary points.

  5. A very nice crawl over the opposition, LPW, elegantly done. But that's the easy bit.

    The nats are far from perfect either, and much more brazen in their lies (you might think that a good thng).

    I agree it is a close-run contest but if Labour wins would a wee bit o' schadenfreude on my part be all right by you?

  6. "in the anticipation slipping into office despite yourself, by the charms of your inactivity" Finely put LPW.

  7. Thanks for the comments, all.

    Caron, Clarinda, Dramfineday

    Glad my malevolence made you all chortle.


    The character in question wasn't quite plucked wholesale from my imagination. I wonder if she chanced across this page whether she'd recognise herself. As to the results, if the SNP come out on top, I'll be joining in with your triumphant crowing.


    Anyone who has been a long term follower of this blog shouldn't imagine (I hope) that I regard the SNP as remotely perfect. If Labour win, I fully expect you to enjoy a good going chortle at our expense. Fair's fair.

  8. That's a cheery line or two of verse, Crinkly. I don't recognise it. It has the feel of a quotation. Where is it from?

  9. Genius, pure genius. I generally am not easily entertained by political put-downs but your accurate, amusing and almost poetic description of Labour and their current susceptibility to schadenfreude is far more insightful than anything else I've read today!

  10. GrassyKnollington30 March 2011 at 22:32

    Andy Kerr is a moist cephalopod with an abacus forever now.

    I think he's the better for it.

    And as for Jammy Pervs...lol you're on fire LPW.

  11. Crinkly,

    The sentiments were rather reminiscent of Man was made to mourn, so it set me wondering!

  12. *doffs periwig to Andrew & GrassyKnollington for their kindly remarks*

  13. Were it so;I'd plead the plagiarism as down to fragility of aged memory.

    Or political license which seems to be galactic in its scope.

    However, having cast my eye again on the picture accompanying your article perhaps I was slow to appreciate the schadenfreude element it captured.

    The chap on the left seems to be indicating his companion has a low register of brain cells, while the other's body language and expression give's the impression of -"Who him! Forget him, he's a nobody."

  14. It will be quite interesting to see the reaction on the 6th of May when First Minister Alex Salmond stands on the steps of Holyrood with Deputy First Minister Annabel Goldie, both being harangued by the Deputy Leader of the Labour Respect alliance, George Galloway. Oh well "spare a thought for the stay at home voter".

  15. There's me thinking in ma heid that it was Kezia Dugface opening her results = 2:2 "but I'm so worthy of much more".

    Oh well we're going to have to wait anither month - spectating never felt so good!

    Saor Alba