Sketch: King of spin causes chaos

The real show tonight was based around the Prince of Darkness.

By Matthew West

So there we were. The assembled journalists in the spin room, a couple of hours ahead of the final leaders debate, all ready to see whether the leaders would slug it out or whether it would all be a bit samey by now.

The verdict in the spin room was almost instant. Boredom set in within about 15 minutes. The economy was never the most exciting subject and even though post-election cuts are the dominant issue of the last three weeks it was all a bit dull. The question on tax brought an audible groan from the journalists. Meanwhile, Nick Clegg was accused of being holier than thou by some. “Shut up you tart” came one cry, while half the room laughed at his attack on the other two leaders for playing politics. He would never do that, no. Never.

We’d been here before, for the last two weeks on a Thursday at roughly the same time, in fact. It’s a good thing there aren’t any more leaders’ debates. I don’t think very many people could take much more.

But it turned out watching the debate was the calm before the storm. Ben Brogan tweeted that Lord Mandelson was stalking the spin room. Then before you knew it and a full 15 minutes before the end of the debate the King of Spin was surrounded by journalists spinning (what else?) like his life depended on it. So furiously one hack noted: “It should be him in the debate.”

Mandelson batted a question about whether his arrival so early was a sign of desperation. “You don’t have to come and ask me questions,” he said. “I’m just doing you a favour.” Hardly.

But before we knew it came chaos. Paddy Ashdown, seeing the frenzy surrounding Lord Mandelson was out spinning for his man Nick Clegg. Then William Hague was throwing his weight around, then Michael Gove, then George Osborne, all spinning madly for Cameron. Liam Byrne, Vince Cable, they were all at it. Mandelson had fired the starting pistol early and instead of everyone being pulled back into line, they were off as if the quicker they spun the better things would be. I don’t know why but it just made we think of whirling dervishes.

There were cameras everywhere. The leaders hadn’t even finished making their closing speeches but the journalists were already jostling each other for position, trying to stick a microphone wherever there was a crevice it could be made to fit.

No one cared that the leaders’ debate was still going on. Maybe that’s the most damning thing of all. The debate billed as being the most important of all was in fact probably the least. It was certainly the least entertaining. The back of the spin room was far more fun.