Guido Fawkes has asked the question twice now, so it’s only fair to offer some kind of response: “Why do people have such a low opinion of politicians?” The question could be more accurately phrased: “Why have people always had a low opinion of politicians, and why will it always be thus?”
Would it be too simplistic to lay all the blame at the media’s door? Yes. Not all, but a huge part of the disenchantment with politicians and politics must be down to our news outlets. We live in the age of 24-hour news, and who among us has not watched BBC 24 of a Saturday afternoon when the football season isn’t on, cringeing with embarrassment and frustration as nervous, tense reporters repeat the same information-free statements of the bleedin’ obvious to camera in order to keep some trivial non-story going because there’s nothing else happening? In this world, reporters know that if a rival channel or outlet writes something negative about a politician or celebrity, they’ll get their backsides kicked if they don’t go one better.
But maybe the news outlets aren’t the worst offenders. When was the last time you saw a movie or play about British politicians which didn’t depict them as sleazy, corrupt and cynical? Don’t answer that, because we all know the answer: never. Some of these dramas have been excellent. State of Play, for instance, starring John Sim, James McAvoy and Neil Morrisey. Great acting, smooth script, cracking plot. Oh, and the central character is an MP who accidentally had his extramarital lover topped.
Ever since The West Wing hit our screens, there’s been talk of a British version. There was The Project, the cliché-ridden mini-series about the rise of New Labour. There was even – God help us all – Party Animals, whose only redeeming feature was an authentic Potcullis House interior which was only slightly less wooden than the acting. (Incidentally, an interesting phenomenon that developed while this drama was being shown was that House of Commons researchers, when asked if they watched it, invariably replied: “Oh, some of it, not all of it,” even though every single one of them had clearly Sky-plussed it and watched every single minute of every episode.) Even Doctor Who had the prime minister as a psychopathic murderer…
No serious writer would even try to write something with the sincerity and conviction of The West Wing about British politicians because there is no market for it. We’ve all been encouraged to believe that simply by aspiring to be an elected representative, there is something wanting in an individual’s character. A British West Wing would seem as alien and unbelievable as science fiction. Truth is, I’m not even sure there’s a British writer alive who would be capable of writing something uncynical of that quality.
Do we share the blame for the opinion which the public holds of us? Of course. After all, we are human with human failings. But we are also, for the most part, good people trying to do good things for the people we represent. And if we are sometimes caught “spinning” a story, please try to remember the raw deal the Labour Party got in the 1980s – from the media – because we couldn’t communicate our messages properly. When TV news will only use five seconds of footage from a 15-minute interview, is it any wonder some of talk in soundbites?
As for Guido’s claim that “Underlying my antipathy to politicians is the fact that I am happy to govern myself.” I’m sure you are, comrade. the only thing is, there is such a thing as society, and you’re part of it, mate, whether you like it or not. A couple of years ago The Daily Telegraph started a campaign to “Free Britain” (or something like that). Listed among the many state “intrusions” into ordinary decent people’s lives was social workers’ assessments on whether you could adopt a child! (Read that sentence again, will you, it’ll save me from having to type it again.) So intervention to safeguard children is an intrusion according to libertarians (incidentally, I don’t suggest Guido necessarily goes along with that one).
We’re all part of society, we all want our freedoms guarded, and those freedoms are sometimes infringed and threatened, not by the state, but by other individuals. That’s when the state has an invaluable role. And that’s when the many decent, honest, good people who are elected to the UK’s various legislatures have a vital role to play.