Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Michael Deacon's parliamentary sketches are the best laugh our newspapers have to offer

Michael Deacon -star!
The Telegraph is hanging on by the skin of its teeth in the Grønmark household. If it ever loses its pocket cartoonist, the incomparable Matt, and its parliamentary sketch writer, Michael Deacon, Mrs G might just end up doing the crossword online. Mind you, until last November, when Deacon was promoted from writing about TV and books to replace Boris Johnson’s biographer  - the nice but rather dull Andrew Gimson - only Matt was keeping our subscription alive. But as long as we’re practically guaranteed two laughs to start the day, the future of this raddled old bag of a newspaper is relatively safe around these parts.

All I know about Deacon is that he was 33 when he took over as PSW last year, that he used to write for lads mag, Zoo (your guess is as good as mine), and that he is one of the funniest journalists I’ve ever read. Here’s how he starts today’s piece on George Osborne’s speech to the Tory party conference:
Why do so many people believe George Osborne is arrogant? “Because he talks and acts that way” is, I suppose, the simple answer, but I think there’s more to it. I think it’s his nostrils. 
When writers of swashbuckling historical thrillers want to evoke a villain’s scorn for others, they write that he “flared his nostrils”. Thanks to the cruelty of genetic inheritance, Mr Osborne’s nostrils are permanently flared, meaning he looks permanently scornful. At any given moment he appears to be on the verge of shouting “HA!” then riding off at high speed on his horse, long black cloak billowing behind him.
A brilliant image which perfectly captures why it’s simply impossible to warm to Osborne.

I assume Deacon is to the right of the political spectrum (I could be wrong) but that doesn’t stop him laying into right-wing politicians:
Whatever your views of Mr Osborne, you have to concede that no one else in politics is quite so brilliantly, heroically brazen. Some of his lines today were so brazen you wondered if he was saying them for a bet… His most brazen line, though, was the one about blinds. “Where is the fairness for the shift worker, leaving home in the morning, who looks up at the closed blinds of the next-door neighbour, sleeping off a life on benefits?” 
A fair enough point, except that he said it just three minutes after saying, “We’re not going to get through this if we set one group against another – if we divide, denounce or demonise.”
If he keep up these standards, he’ll soon be challenging the Mail’s Quentin Letts for the funniest current writer about politicians award. (Here’s Letts from today’s paper: Mr Osborne’s warm-up man was Paul Deighton, chief executive of the London Olympics, who is becoming a Government minister. Mr Deighton is a Positive Thinker and therefore Rather Exhausting. Like Tony the Kellogg’s Frosties tiger, his favourite word is ‘great’. A few weeks in Whitehall should beat that optimism out of him.)

Of the two pre-Deacon journalists who – in my lifetime - have shown genuine comic genius when writing about politicians (as opposed to politics) Auberon Waugh opted for a tone of aristocratic contempt for the blighters, whom he genuinely seems to have regarded as a pathetic collection of power-crazed social and emotional cripples. Frank Johnson, by contrast, was evidently rather fond of them – he just found them innately ridiculous (his East End background no doubt helped him see through Labour’s ersatz compassion for the lower orders, and the grand, patrician posturings of posh Tories – and Roy Jenkins, of course - made him hoot). Deacon is more Johnsonian in his approach, which makes for an easier read of a morning – he doesn’t seem to hate MPs, but, like the rest of us,  he does find them bloody silly.

Deacon has already become a master of the Johnsonian trick of wrapping up his sketches with the main conceit he has introduced earlier:
Not all that much applause at the end, it must be said: 30 seconds. Wonder what [Osborne] made of that.
Probably he just shouted “HA!” and rode off, cloak billowing behind. 
Having to be funny to order every day under extreme time pressure can’t be easy (let’s face it, just being funny isn’t exactly a doddle - look at the dire quality of newspaper cartoons). Although Letts is still producing the goods at 49, I suspect the freshness and stamina required mean it’s a job best suited to younger men – interestingly, Gimson, the writer Deacon replaced, who was 54 when an attempt was made to shift him over to the more sedate realm of leader writing, brought an (unsuccessful) age discrimination case against the Telegraph. Frank Johnson certainly produced their best work in the decade before he turned 40. Given that Deacon is still in his early 30s, Telegraph readers have the prospect of enjoying his stuff for years to come – but if he isn’t snaffled by the Mail as a replacement for Quentin Letts within a few years, I’d be amazed.

Enjoy him while you can: the young man's a star.

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