The not terribly good masters of illusionPosted on: 10 November 2010 by Alexander Hay
Our leaders are clumsy, craven and stupid, and we fall for it.
If one man embodies the soul of modern politics, it is the Indonesian communications minister, Tifatul Sembiring. He won't shake hands with women in public, you see. It's a bit sordid, doing that hand shaking thing with women. It might drive you to paroxysms of lust.
Only, he doesn't really believe in this, as proven by his shaking US First Lady Michelle Obama's hand when she visited his mosque earlier this week.
Caught in the act, he claimed on Twitter that she forced him into it. The poor thing. But as the video revealed, he quite happily shook hands with her. Only, he didn't realise the camera was on him. The rebuttal was desperate and clumsy, like a naughty child being caught with his hand in the biscuit jar.
Likewise with George W Bush. "Because a lawyer said it was legal" he said this week, when asked why he allowed waterboarding – the acceptable face of torture. And what is his opinion of the British public he wants to buy his memoirs? "It doesn't matter how people perceive me in England. It just doesn't matter any more. Frankly, at times, it didn't matter then." He no doubt sleeps well at night, but it's still a shock to see how oblivious he is.
Then there is Prime Minister David Cameron, whose brave stance on human rights abuses in China was proven in the strongest terms by not raising the issue at all when he visited the country on Monday. Rolls Royce openly boasting about the £750 billion deal Cameron's visit had helped them win was a coincidence of course.
Elsewhere, the British delegation upset some Chinese by wearing poppies (which the hosts took as a tasteless allusion to the Opium Wars) and it was revealed that Cameron's new trade envoy, Tamara Mellon, had once posed for pictures where she was wearing nothing but a cat.
Again, politicians were revealed to be fools and knaves. Like Emperors in their new clothes, they openly display how useless they are whilst hoping, desperately, that no one will ever notice.
Take the Labour party's response to the public shaming of now ex-MP Phil Woolas. Most people would see the way Woolas smeared his rival in this year's general election as both despicable and illegal. Labour MPs, however, don't seem to be most people. They denounced deputy leader Harriet Harman for giving him the boot and have launched a fighting fund to support a man who may have broken the law and had proven to be a liability.
The worrying thing is that they aren't going to pay a price for this. Successful MPs can get away with shocking levels of stupidity just as long as they play the game, don't make it too obvious and don't remind the voters too much of what they already know. Namely, that politics is the preserve of barren, ugly people.
This has got worse in recent years due to the rise of the professional politician. These are people who dedicate themselves to politics from an early age, choosing it as a career from secondary school upwards.
When not drinking 14 pints a day, the young William Hague had Hansard delivered to his house every day. Both Milibands were utter politics spods before, during and after university. David Cameron could have done anything with his connections and education, but became a researcher for the Tory party instead... The list goes on.
These people see politics not as a means but as an end. It seeps out of every pore and informs their every breath. Having jobs outside Westminster are also ever more frowned upon. An MP must now give him or herself to politics and politics only.
Yet it stands to reason that the more 'pure' and dedicated our politicians are, the more their worst traits will be refined over time. The Expenses Scandal of 2009 shows what happens when pro-politics takes hold. It cuts people off from reality and allows them to become venal and corrupt. This will get worse over time. As more and more people enter politics straight from university, the intellectual rot will spread further.
The irony is that we don't always need politicians. When the Queen dissolves parliament before an election, the lights don't go out and society doesn't fall apart. Perhaps part-time MPs would be much better. Or one could do as Gordon Brown does these days and just not turn up most of the time.
Or we could accept one simple, harsh fact: We keep voting for them.
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