Saturday, 5 June 2010

Why Would You Trust a Politician?

We live in a democracy in Britain, but this democracy comes with some conditions. For example the system of government we have abhors hung parliaments, and would much rather have a situation where two parties with conflicting viewpoints agree to run the country together like some sort of public school work experience scheme. 

Apparently getting a hung parliament would mean that the MPs who wanted their belief systems to be enforced would have to do things like intelligently debate, arguing using thought and reason to persuade other people that they had a good idea. This does sound a bit like hard work, so it seems fair enough to completely twist the public vote rather than forge ahead with something that had the potential to be genuinely representative. There doesn't seem to be any actual certainty that a hung parliament would be A Bad Thing, but then there never can be certainty when we frequently don't believe our elected representatives.

Politicians are not widely trusted; they are seen as duplicitous and self-serving, back-stabbing and two-faced. Those who do go into parliament wide eyed with idealistic optimism come out a cynical husk, shattered in the knowledge that they just voted on something which could potentially result in the death of another human being. I know some very enthusiastic and intelligent young people (physically at any rate) who stood as or were interested in standing at the last election. This is presumably how it starts. 

I couldn't stand being an MP. I don't really like people very much for starters. But to have to vote on life or death issues, and act in accordance with an overriding ideology that I might not totally agree with, this does not seem to me the challenge I seek in life, but a nightmare that bores as much as it terrifies. The main problem I have, however, is that you have to talk in such a profoundly stupid way.

'Hear hear!' they cry in the Commons. 'Shame!' they rumble. 'Boo!' they intone.

They actually say 'Boo.' 

The only person I know who actually says 'boo' is my Dad at football matches, and he's given up that pretence now that he knows I swear just as much as he does. For a chamber of people that it supposed to represent Britain why does it talk like a bunch of walrus-shaped old men, hair sprouting like an atomic explosion out of every orifice and pore, who waddle along in puritan black and associate the word 'hose' with cladding for the legs? Cretins don't even talk like that any more.

What's more, the ones that make it into parliament are usually the most tolerant members of parties who can barely contain their antipathy. It's like a hotel where the kitchen staff hate the waiters who hate the receptionists who hate the cleaners who hate the janitors who hate everyone. Staying in this hotel is going to be miserable.

Even if they have to maintain this false sense of civility, could they not at least use words that bristle with potential facial hair? Prime Minister's Question Time would be vastly improved by shouts and cries of 'Aye, right,' 'Well that's utter crap for starters,' and 'Your Mother, Cameron. Your mother.' Slow claps could be employed, as well as people saying 'Bullshit' while they pretend to cough. But no, there's a detachment from any sort of reality, as if becoming a politician involves some sort of detoxing from real life, and this hardly brings Them and Us closer together.

Politicians are distrusted by many, this is not news. But the reason we distrust them is News. Or has been News. I'm drifting.

The Expenses Scandal happened. Everyone went 'Oooh' and pointed fingers as the first controversial Moat of the century happened. And someone went and asked Stephen Fry what he thought, seeing as how he is so clever and that. His reply, which I am paraphrasing, was 'Oh everyone claims stuff on expenses. Most journalists do it, I've done it, everyone does it.'

This didn't take into account the critical difference that the MPs were spending money raised through tax, which the public were hoping could be spent on things like dentists and hospitals and places to do stuff. But how very depressing of the public to start crying foul when it came to their public money being spent on furniture and garden work for the already well-off. Never mind the fact that we went to wars that, from a purely pragmatic and financial point of view, were a really bad idea, but if some prat has built a Masonic Lodge for ducks in his back garden then that's just insulting.

It's sad that it took corruption on an unprecedented scale to make people mistrust politicians, because what that suggests is that people don't focus on the apparently background levels of wrong and just breeze on with their lives.

What annoyed more people? This...
...or this?

Certainly magazines like Private Eye expose a breathtaking amount of duplicity every fortnight and hardly anybody bats an eyelid until a mainstream press finishes licking the ice cream from the container and sets about tub-thumping. We just trust that there'll be food in the cupboard and people being processed and buffeted into entertaining shapes on the telly box. We still value our entertainers more than the people we elect to run the country, at least in terms of financial reward. 

It takes the least well paid member of the England squad about a month to earn what an MP does in a year, and that seems weird. That's why I feel slightly sorry for those fresh faced idealists who go skipping off to place a £500 deposit at Election Club ('Tell everybody'), to know that they went into this with the kind of naive optimism you'd expect from a baby seal who wonders if that blunt wooden object in the sky is going to be its friend. 

You go into the job wanting to make a difference, and you bow and scrape and talk like a nob and end up compromised apart by forces beyond your control. And at the end of it all you're paid less than the bloke Cheryl Cole used to be married to.

Is it any wonder they go a bit wrong?

June 2010

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