Coffee House

Ian Katz was right the first time. And Rachel Reeves was being boring on purpose

10 September 2013

I’ve never met the woman that the Newsnight editor Ian Katz last night accidentally described as ‘boring, snoring Rachel Reeves’, so for all I know, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury might be an absolute riot. Although actually, writing that, it occurs to me that maybe I have and she was just too boring for me to remember. Perhaps we sat next to each other at some sort of function, and had a fun chat about, ooh, fiscal prudence in a post-OBR paradigm, which involved her talking and me going ‘Mmmm’, and left her thinking, ‘He seems nice, I wonder if we’ll be friends?’ as she walked dreamily to the Tube, only for me never to call because the whole experience had immediately slipped from my mind like water slips from a raincoat, ultimately leading to her reading this, now, and being struck with righteous, albeit boring, fury.

In which case, sorry. But ‘Wow! Who is THAT?’ is something which nobody watching Newsnight will have said. Asked whether this woman could one day be prime minister, a focus group would have replied, ‘Dunno, sorry, I wasn’t actually listening.’ Katz didn’t mean to broadcast his criticism (it was a private message on Twitter, which went wrong like they always do), but his criticism was nonetheless quite fair. This wasn’t a shy victim doing her best. This was conscious boringness, designed to make the watching public give up and go away.


Lots of politicians do it. Gordon Brown only did it, except for on the rare occasions that he tried smiling and looked like a serial killer. And I don’t think they realise the harm they do. In the Times last week, m’colleague Tim Montgomerie hailed the election of Tony Abbott in Australia as a triumph of the BoreCons — solid, dull, centre-rightists, quietly getting on and governing. See also Angela Merkel, he wrote, and a slew of other people I’ve barely heard of from places such as New Zealand and Canada. His point was about boring policies as much as boring personalities, but this was all still very much the Reeves approach to ruling the world. People don’t want to be thrilled, is the idea. They want solidity and competence. They don’t want Berlusconi, but the next guy, whoever he is. Slip under the radar. Get stuff done.

The problem with this, though, is that it divorces governance from debate. Writing in this space a few years ago, at about this time of year, I noted that something had gone awry with the unspoken order of precedence at party conferences. Aside from at the very top, I’d realised — the Prime Minister and party leaders — all the superstars were journalists. They dance across the airwaves, speaking to each other, at the centre of every interesting huddle at every interesting party. Actual politicians skulk in the background, shabbily suited, and with resentful eyes. This, I suspect, is where a lot of that Westminster Leveson fury came from. You spend a career climbing the greasy pole but, every time you have a conversation at a drinks party, people are peering over your shoulder to see if they can spot Piers Morgan or Rebekah Brooks.

What do you expect, though? The performative aspect of politics matters. It’s where it all begins. We talk as though it’s shallow, that magic sparkly thing that Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage can do, and in many respects it is. But a politics dominated by politicians who come across like Rachel Reeves is a politics which has given up trying; which has such a low estimation of its electorate that it can no longer be bothered even to engage them in conversation. In the end, Katz apologised, which was his mistake. He should have doubled up. ‘Yeah,’ he should have said. ‘I said “boring”. And if you ever want to come on my show again, you had better do better than that.’

This is an extract from Hugo Rifkind’s column in the next issue of The Spectator, which will be available on Thursday.

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  • Richard Martin

    Should have got George Galloway on instead. He’s never boring, regardless of what you think of him.

  • Bob

    “and being struck with righteous, albeit boring, fury.”

    I love you.

  • Ben Kelly

    Ah, my MP, thanks for the replies to my letters (from your secretary)

  • foxoles

    Rachel Reeves: all the charm and charisma of a speak-your-weight machine.

  • Fencesitter

    Sorry to cheerlead, but this piece is spot on. Will have to start reading Hugo again.

  • Greenslime

    It’s a variation of, ‘if it looks like a duck and quacks, it’s a duck!’.

    She sounds like a dalek to me. A few bullet points with no substance delivered in staccato fashion.

    One of Davros’ little soldiers. This extract from Wikiquote about the daleks pretty much says it all: “Various storylines portray them as having had every emotion removed except hate, leaving them with a desire to purge the Universe of all non-Dalek life. Occasionally they are shown as experiencing other emotions, primarily fear, although such occurrences are rare.”

    You could change the names and it describes the Labour Party exactly.

  • HJ777

    She was boring, just as Miliband is, because what she says has no content and she is putting forward no argument .

    Another Labour example is the hideously boring Yvette Cooper. When in government her stock response to any questioning of government policy was “well, we’re doing this because (we think) it’s the right thing to do” as if that constituted an explanation or argument.

    • Pootles

      ‘Because we think it is the right thing to do…’ – probably the most annoying response that we get from the political class, and only rivalled by ‘I acted in good faith’. Either of those statements should automatically result in a custodial sentence.

  • tompiper

    Bored Rod? don’t you have drink in the house? I was half cut as usual. That’s the best way to be for Newsnight IMO.Why didn’t you have a few?

    I do remember her talking about listening to the opinions of he constituents though. That was funny, though the threat of a new housing tax chilled even my fuzzy consciousness.

  • roger

    When your policy is ‘no change’ you can’t help being boring.
    Even the bombastic Balls is having trouble generating public interest.

  • TenPillocksInARoom

    “The problem with this, though, is that it divorces governance from debate”

    Absolute nail on the head. Have not heard this put better.

    “I don’t think they realise the harm they do.”

    Perhaps. Brown was well aware.

  • Austin Barry

    Monotonic, expressionless, and terminally dull Rachel Reeves is a typical Labour lady.

    She also has a PPE.

    Destined for great things then.

  • anyfool

    She is boring because she has nothing original to say, she repeats whatever Fat Pang lookalike Balls tells her, her only memorable feature is the strangulated hernia she has as a voice box which she uses to grate on most peoples nerves.

  • CharlietheChump

    As a politician Reeves has all the communication skills of a tip top weather forecaster.

  • dmitri the impostor

    I have never heard of this commentator but this piece seems notably destitute of any information that could make the most microscopic difference to the price of fish. In fact, he gives me just the sneakiest of sneaking suspicions that he is a Phil Space merchant who knows nothing about anything. Anyone shed any light?

    • Hugo Rifkind

      Yup, that’s about right.

      • dmitri the impostor

        Good man for taking it on the chin.

    • Rockin Ron

      Hugo Rifkind, not associated with:

      – originality

      – creativity

      – thinking

      – inspiration

      – reality
      He’s a sort of B movie Matthew Parris, just as wet but less experienced and more privileged, therefore entitled to be a national commentator on pretty much everything. Another poster boy for the age of inanity.

  • Tom Tom

    Berlusconi would not give her the time of day………and she turned down a job at Goldman, sounds like she has no idea how Goldman interviews work…….you don’t get offers to turn down before you have accepted them

    • telemachus

      Not sure you are right
      She is one of our more delightful girls

      • HJ777

        Then we can only hope that we’re not exposed to your less delightful girls.

  • telemachus

    “They don’t want Berlusconi”
    Yes but Berlusconi and Rachel Reeves together….

  • MirthaTidville

    Another Liebour non entity who I have little doubt was accurately described. The real hypocracy here is Liebour themselves. Ye Gods, Newsnight, has been one of their mouthpieces for years.( Michael Crick anyone??) Another Guardianista gets put in place to make sure they NEVER become impartial and at the first sign of going wrong…Kabooom..

    Another reason why this shower of Sh$te should never be allowed in power again

    • Nicholas chuzzlewit

      Cannot argue with a single word of that!

      • David Lindsay

        Cannot identify several of them.

      • telemachus

        Gladly Katz is now for the chop

        • Nicholas chuzzlewit

          What for telling the truth?

          • telemachus

            For demonising a good girl

            • nickwilde

              You must live in a very strange world where an accidental tweet calling someone’s performance boring is demonising them. Nothing like the hyperbole of the left, is there.

              • HJ777

                He does live in a very strange world, as he has demonstrated on many occasions.

                Would you believe that he thinks Ed Balls is “charismatic”?

    • Colonel Mustard

      Morticia does the Newsnight Dance of the Living Dead for the zombie party.

      They’re creepy and they’re kooky,
      Mysterious and spooky,
      They’re all together ooky,
      The Labour chancellory.

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