Branding consultancy Celestial Fred has been invited (in the light of the expenses scandal and Labour leadership rebellion farce) to submit proposals for repackaging the role of backbenchers. Below is the keynote speech by CF’s Chairman, Rick Flaschpan
“Gentlemen – above all we need a new descriptor to replace the term Backbencher. Not change for the sake of it – like pest control operative for rat-catcher, or sex worker for prostitute – but something that offers a more accurate description of their professional role and unique personality traits.
Backpeddler and Backslider come immediately to mind, but these retain the fundamental problem of the existing name: the use of the syllable ‘back’. Mammals have backs, and backs have to have spines. So the prefix has to change.
To get beyond Day One ideas here, we need to examine more closely what the contemporary backbencher actually does. The following is the best summary we’ve come up with so far:
- Have sex with inappropriate people/species and thus get blackmailed by Whips
- As a result of this, do everything they’re told to do by the Whips
- Become bored, and thus do some comfort-spending on duck houses, loo seats and mirage-mortgages
- Occasionally get drunk and therefore vaguely truculent, insisting on trade-offs in order to salve their low self-esteem
- Trade opposition to war in exchange for bills to preserve vermin, and lame Post Office dinosaurs for lame-duck Prime Ministers
- On seeing a dead duck, suddenly become very brave – but then see Alan Johnson and have second thoughts about post office dinosaurs, Prime Ministerial ducks etc
- Cheer the duck corpse loudly and then tell the media they were all making a fuss about nothing.
Early on in that list we get a hint of what we in the media today call The Mosley Pitstop. This is not unusual: during most government terms in office, people variously hang from ceilings, chew coke-filled oranges, get caught in romps, and burst hurriedly from closets. And thus, into the Chief Whip’s little black book they go.
Such characters could therefore be called blackbenchers, a newly-minted term we have brainstormed at CF Worldwide, referring to dalliances with the black sexual arts, bulging bank accounts engorged by benefit fraud, and the consequently high likelihood of them being blackmailed. But this term would inevitably fall foul of race lobby sensitivities, and so must be rejected.
At this juncture we began to have doubts about the ‘benchers’ part. For one thing, what they sit on in the Commons are not what most people think of as benches – rather, they are long, plush and uninterrupted leather-clad sofas. And secondly, one can’t be a bencher. There is no verb ‘to bench’. What would it mean…..to clout some poor unfortunate with a wooden work-surface? Politics requires an eclectic range of talents, but not as yet a propensity to assault people with the furniture.
Early on in this rebranding process, we spotted that throwing out the suffix opens up enormous possibilities, and takes us back for a fresh look at the ordinary MP’s skills and lifestyle. Syllables like shagger, fagger, trougher, boozer, and plonker might be starters. Or – if one was in search of a radical change of meter to the name – pervert, wimp, fraud, lush, idiot, naïf and liar. But the problem with these last words is that they would make backbenchers indistinguishable from ministers, and that would be self-defeating.
So we reflected and went back to first principles, but this time with a different brief: to express in a name reflective of role and personality how, for instance, one might see a backbencher (or hear them speak) and with no further clues at all declare, “Ah – she’s a leather-brain”….or whatever name emerged as most suitable.
In this sense, the prefix ‘Back’ (despite the misleading species clues) still remains good as a reminder of both role and intelligence – backstage, back-burner, back-marker, backward and, naturally, backfire – but while these connotations suggest incompetent distance from the action, they do not convey the depth involved in being utterly beneath contempt.
There is a verb involved with the depth of things (barrels and so forth): to plumb. Hold that thought, gentlemen…..it has possibilities.
What else is obvious about backbenchers? We have an insight to put forward.
MPs outside the real and Shadow Cabinets tend to have bark but no bite; to be vain, pompous, and puffed-up; to steer a middle course to keep the Whips happy; to bend, kneel, grovel, give in and allow themselves to be herded; and to try whenever possible to catch the eye of their seniors.
Unfortunately, this definition is a pen picture par excellence of all 638 MPs, including the current incumbent of Number Ten. For the best possible rebranding of these folk, one key principle remains: what is the quintessential element of a backbencher that makes him or her – and will always make them – a backbencher rather than a potential high-flier?
With this thought in mind, nomenclature like fencesitters, gumbarkers, bendovers, and backseaters are no better than adequate, if only because they are as good a description of Jack Straw as you’ll ever read.
For a time we were keen on puffadders – vainglorious snakes – but this falls down hugely on two bases: first, puff adders are highly venomous, whereas backbenchers are obviously firing blanks most of the time; and second, it too is an excellent summation of an important eminence grise, his Lordship Mandelson. We suspect there may well be a Westminster-centred board game in this called Snakes and Adders, but it still doesn’t set our lobby fodder apart from those sliding effortlessly up the greasy pole.
No gentlemen: what consigns backbenchers to permanent, powerless insouciance is a dangerous brew of low cunning, careless cunnilingus, and incipient craziness. By contrast, Ministers are just as licentious (but more discreet) and very stupid on the big issues (but rarely insane).
And so our recommendation, gentlemen, is that Backbenchers be renamed Plumbbonkers.
Thus – revisiting the name stress-test we outlined earlier – it seems to us that people could (after just one brief viewing) very naturally refer to Bill Cash as plumb bonkers. Or indeed any number of all three Parties’ ordinary MPs.
This name alone ticks all the boxes marked ‘leaden’, ‘bottom-feeding’, ‘libidinous’ and ‘a vote short of a majority’. As a phrase when spoken, it suggests ‘absolutely mad’ and indiscriminate sex involving anything with or without a pulse. But best of all, it creates a model for judgement of when Ministers should return to the back benches: when they have become plumb bonkers.
On this basis, for example, Harriet Harman would be returned to the dishonourable obscurity for which she was designed – as too would Ken Clarke.
Gentlemen, we commend this proposal to you, and would wish to gently remind all those present that our invoice for £2.7 million will be in the post tomorrow morning.”
After brief consideration, Celestial Fred’s ideas were rejected by the Commons Committee