I’LL EAT MY HAT

A80pxtreepparently Charles II’s head-wear was so ostentatiously huge and flamboyant that the very wearing of it must have been ridiculously demanding.

Never mind eating it.

But what was in Paddy Ashdown’s mind when he uttered the phrase ‘I’ll eat my hat’ on seeing the exit polls on May 7?

image00(He has a few more things to think about now than how to digest a trilby or a beanie.)

Those party leaders and their assorted cheer-leader teams were entrenched in their stories and their positions at that point.

David Cameron had to look quietly confident yet humble, Ed Miliband had to look unassuming yet modestly expectant. Nick Clegg had to look competent yet with an unblemished record, and Nigel Farage just had to demonstrate walking and talking simultaneously.

All were starring in their familiar stories and roles.

So what did the hat comment really mean? Was it – dismissal? Was it – shock? Was it a sort of – bravado insurance?

I think it was an inability to countenance any other reality than the one already settled upon.

An innocent symptom of a far from innocent condition: certainty.

There was a disturbance in the force last week that claimed casualty after casualty. Certainty may not have been amongst them.

The lashing out has begun.

Theories and counter theories are piling up.

Words like ‘aspiration’, phrases like ‘getting the message across’, positions like ‘contender’ are streaming forth.

It may be that the public conversational inquests being held are reactions to shock. They may be merely the teeth-chattering that starts hours after the crash, or the tears that splurge uncontrollably after reaching the shore.

But nothing said so far seems to have shaken itself free of the old stories and the old certainties.

Big stuff demands big thinking. Big surprises demand big re-writes.

No one seems to have started from a position of ‘I don’t know’.

No one has signalled a mood of creative enquiry.

No one so far has asked the only first question that matters…

‘What are we for?’

Noel Coward said of an unloved (and by all accounts unsuccessful) actor

‘He’s completely unspoiled by failure’.

And if that isn’t a warning to go back to factory settings after a setback, then I’ll eat my hat.

 

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