I’m old enough to have often made use of those old-time, big red, roadside boxes with ‘push button’ public telephones inside. They needed your pocket to have a ready supply of little round pieces of copper called ‘pennies’. You’d to load three of these into a slot and dial a number. If someone answered, you pressed button ‘A’ to enable you to speak to them, and heard your pennies drop into the innards of the box. If there was no answer, you pressed button ‘B’ and your un-required pennies (hopefully!) dropped into the little tray at the bottom of the box.
After three minutes, ear-piercing bleeps told you your time was up, and it was either pay up and continue to chat up, or shut up and hang up. If a few of your chums wanted in on the conversation, you all got into very close ‘fellowship’ in the little box, trying not to stand on each others’ toes. If you had ‘many a penny,’ and your call went on too long, the queue outside the box might well begin banging on the door’s little glass windows and shouting some choice abuse.
I’m glad those penny-full days are gone, but when I see photos of these old ‘push button A or B’ phones, party politics invariably comes to mind. I think of wearisomely predictable, and painfully unconvincing, interviews following an egregiously stupid political decision that’s gone catastrophically wrong, and rapidly had to be reversed (think Truss and Kwarteng).
If they’re in government, they press button ‘A’ and say the principle was entirely right even if its implementation went unforeseeably wrong, but that they’ve proved they’re a “listening” government, always ready to be flexible in the best interests of the people, blah, blah. If they’re in opposition, they press button ‘B’ and say it’s only one more chaotic example of total incompetence and that the downfall of the nation is imminent unless their lot get into power and put everything right, blah, blah. They ignore the fact that not all of us are blindly partisan and credulously stupid and that, for most of us, the ‘pennies instantly drop’ and, having heard it all before, we don’t believe a single word we’re now hearing.
In fairness, let me mention an honourable exception in these days of a Scottish National Party leadership election. The SNP President Mike Russell, speaking on BBC’s The Sunday Show, said things had gone “spectacularly wrong in recent weeks”, and that “there is a tremendous mess we have to clear up”. Well that makes a welcome change – just too bad it’s particularly noteworthy for being so very unusual. Good luck with the ‘clear up’!
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