Bernard Trafford: Politics is like a dodgy hand-drier - a horrendous racket, hot air in all directions, no visible effect

Bernard Trafford says even hopeless actors and grumpy grannies have registered more memorable achievements than many politicians

Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire Prime Minister David Cameron meets apprentices in Leeds
Prime Minister David Cameron meets apprentices in Leeds

Gregory Walcott has died, aged 87. He had a forty-year Hollywood career, but was famous for just one movie, Plan 9 from Outer Space.

That 1959 black-and-white science-fiction movie featured some of the clunkiest cardboard special effects ever to infest the silver screen and later received the accolade of being the worst film ever made.

Walcott took a part in it to oblige a friend and, though he also did TV as well as films alongside such names as Gene Hackman and Clint Eastwood, his fame rests on being part of that legendary Tinseltown turkey.

What I like about this story is what the modest Walcott told the LA Times in 2000: “I didn’t want to be remembered for that, but it’s better to be remembered for something than for nothing.”

That sounds to me like the utterance of a grounded and realistic man. It’s also at odds with the relentless self-promotion of party leaders in this feverish election season. No matter that manifestos have now (finally) been published: no one reads them anyway. Leaders are busy defining themselves as, well, the right person to lead the country.

All but one will be disappointed, though a coalition might provide consolation prizes. Moreover, most of the losers will also lose their leadership position: parties deal harshly with those who fail to bring victory at the polls.

Then, like Gregory Walcott, they might be left with only the legacy of their “fifteen minutes of fame”, as Andy Warhol described it. What will be their equivalent of starring in the world’s worst movie?

Will Ed Miliband will be remembered for his bacon sandwich? Hell, yes! Nigel Farage for his pint: or for his promise to be tough on “health tourists”, especially Aids victims?

That went down badly with viewers of the TV debate, offering Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood a moment of glory when she told him he should be ashamed of himself. Of course, here in the North East we’ll naturally continue to mock Farage’s conviction that Scotland starts at Hadrian’s Wall.

The Greens’ Natalie Bennett will be remembered not for that debate but for her earlier “brain fade” on radio when she couldn’t recall the costing of her party’s housing policy. Meanwhile Nicola Sturgeon wowed the English (sic) in the televised debate… although none of us south of the border can electorally influence her powerbase.

David Cameron is notoriously easy to caricature in countless cartoons as a posh boy in tails: by curious contrast, TV or radio satirists imitate him only unconvincingly. Rather than worthy platitudes about economic responsibility echoed throughout this campaign, I wonder if he’ll be more readily remembered for that 2010 mantra: “I agree with Nick.” Sadly, that may be Clegg’s only memorial, too.

Last weekend, in a Devon pub with my old Dad, I encountered a poorly maintained hand-drier in the gents. It made a horrendous racket, blew hot air in all directions but signally failed to achieve any visible effect: it was a fine metaphor for present-day politics.

Dad was in reminiscent mood, revealing a story new to me about my Granny. The most miserable woman I’ve ever known (mercifully her daughter, my Mum, didn’t inherit that trait), she eventually needed more nursing than my long-suffering parents could provide: they found her a suitable place.

All seemed to be going well, despite Granny’s complaints about “too much bloody religion” in the home, run by nuns and carefully chosen to reflect her religious faith. Out of the blue, Dad received a call from the Mother Superior. “Dr Trafford,” she said, “ I don’t know how to put this delicately. I’m afraid you’ll have to take your mother-in-law away. She isn’t fitting in.”

Poor Granny was too grumpy and stroppy for even the saintly nuns to cope with.

To my mind the expulsion of a 90-year-old former teacher from a retirement home is as memorable an achievement as a movie disaster or any number of political platitudes!


  • Dr Bernard Trafford is Headmaster of Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School. The views here are personal.


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