Warning: What follows contains cynicism. It is opinionated, probably inaccurate, possibly libellous, inconsistent in tone and somewhat rambling. If you are of fragile political sensibility you might be offended and your tea may well exit through your nose.
The point of politicians is increasingly lost on everyone except politicians. There was a time when we looked up to them, held them in high esteem, got sore necks looking up at their high esteeminess. They said things that seemed to clarify, irrepressible truths that soothed the startled hearts and minds of the populace. They carried us out of war, established free health care, united a divided Europe. Sort of. They were like posh, rock stars, striding the world stage in pinstripes and highly polished shoes, gods of rhetoric with half-bent pipes who could save the nation with their stiff upper everything. They were also almost exclusively white men. We eulogised them, made eyes at them, made statues of them, made films about them, still make films about them. Not this lot though, it’s unlikely Gary Oldman will ever get an Oscar for playing Theresa May.
Which brings us to a small bump in the narrative, namely that as the number of women in politics has increased, from approximately 3% in the fifties to about 30% now, so has the apparent duplicity and venality of politicians. It might be tempting to look for some kind of correlation but there isn’t one, the truth is politicians have always been arseholes, regardless of gender, it’s not the politicians that have changed it’s their constituents.
The age of deference is over for all but the most politically fervid. Politicians of all inclination and stripe are now guilty by association, exposed as little more than professional prevaricators, dedicated dissemblers, occupational occlusionists, there to stir up the silt at the bottom of any negotiation. They are often incapable of reaching any meaningful conclusion, use delay as a principle tactic, insist that unknown unknowns have become known unknowns, that any given meeting was fruitful, that progress has been made, that lessons have been learned, that they are getting closer to consensus and with forthright resolve look forward to a day in the as yet undetermined future but after the summer recess when they will without equivocation be able to come to an agreement conclusively once and for all. Maybe. It’s yes or no for fucksake!
I know, I know, there are some good politicians, striving to do the right thing, resolved to make a difference, blah, blah, blah, but really who cares? Not government. Idealists are not proper politicians, they’re not allowed to be. They are drops of Fairy Liquid in an ever growing oil slick. Ideology is the brand not the product, the product is money, nothing matters unless there’s a quid in it, not war, austerity or climate. Politics is not complicated it is simply an inverted funnel for the collection and redistribution of money, upwards. Occasionally it needs re-branding or an injection of fear or loathing, whether these things genuinely rouse us is irrelevant, what we are really doing is aligning with the party that we think will bring most benefit, not for the country but for ourselves, we wrap it up in ideology so we can feel better about it. This has always been our relationship with government, we have always voted for whoever pays the most and even when other topics such as immigration become central it’s really only about how those things will affect our money. It’s why environmental or single issue parties are little more than garnish, I haven’t forgotten them, I’m just ignoring them as you do those delicately cut carrot or radish flowers that come with Thai food, no matter how good or bad the main dishes you know you’re never going to eat them.
Individual politicians may be idiots but as a hive mind they understand how to exploit our prejudices, we want them confirmed and they do their very best to accommodate. As a result we don’t believe all politicians are arseholes we believe half of them are, the half we don’t vote for. We tune them out, can’t bear to look at or listen to them, believe all they want to do is rob us, which of course they do. But by not listening we don’t hear how similar they are to our preferred party, they come at us from opposite ends of the argument but where they meet their intentions converge, they are two flight attendants on a burning plane, heading for a mountain, on autopilot, it’s either nuts or crisps.
There is no right choice, both will prove an equally poor investment, weary disappointment will creep up on you like a cudgel, it’s not easy to accept that partisanship is pointless, no one likes to be proven wrong, again, bloody mindedness is a persistent but worthless trait, one that these days is being sorely tested. It’s the reason we care less and less about politics, why so many of us no longer vote, we have realised, unless you are an elite, there’s no money in it. The only benefit we detect is really small and happens gradually over a very long time, not because of politics but in spite of it. It’s called the wider economy.
At this point it is important to remember that politicians don’t actually run the country, they only think they do. In theory they work for us but in reality they work for power and think we work for them. It’s pretty much the same for everyone in high authority, public or corporate, saying one thing, believing another, taking the credit for everything. It isn’t power that corrupts people though, it’s people that corrupt power and those who pursue it are usually those who least deserve it. This is also true of those who inherit it.
Some politicians are born privileged, some achieve privilege and some have privilege thrust upon them, though when elected there’s barely a fag paper between them. Occasionally politicians compensate for their entitlement by having a very strict work ethic which they then rigorously apply to everyone but themselves, not surprisingly our parliament has never been the subject of a time and motion study.
Once in power politicians often have difficulty with the very laws they impose upon the general public, like not being drunk whilst in charge of a country, or not using expenses to build a clinker villa for your pot bellied pigs. Tax is also something they struggle with, as they think it terribly unfair that they are expected to pay their own wages out of their own pockets. This level of fuckery is fairly typical and as everything they touch can turn to shit without warning it is necessary for them to maintain an air of obfuscated ambiguity at all times. It is also important that any tinkering they might do can easily be confused with the work of others, usually bureaucrats, civil servants who get scant appreciation for their efforts and ceaseless blame for the messes of politicians.
When they’re not debating the virtues of Rich tea versus Digestive the duly elected like to re-imagine their departments, sadly this often involves a lot more than just finding a new supplier of floppy discs and fax paper. They call this legacy, we call this fucking bureaucracy, turning something that is already overly complicated into something utterly inexplicable. A futile exercise of this magnitude will require massive management, at least a third of the budget will need to be spent working out ways to increase the budget, this will require outside help, specialists in making nothing out of something. The consultants will need to be consulted. Urgently.
Consultants are a bit like politicians in that they are inexperienced people who try to tell experienced people how to do their jobs whilst being paid shit loads more. Consultants have mysterious skills but explaining what they are isn’t one of them. You can only be a consultant so long as no one has a clue what consulting is, including yourself, as this could cause a collapse in the client consultant confidence continuum. Any attempt to describe your job could result in immediate dismissal of the person you are trying to describe it to. Essentially though consulting is a single long coffee break interrupted only by going home time. Politicians love consultants because they make them look qualified but will only hire those that went to the same school as them, assuming they didn’t get in on a bursary.
When the consultants have identified the problem without having the faintest idea what they’re looking for they will write a report which will become the basis of a white paper, so called because it is written on paper, that is white. Once it has been approved by the very people who commissioned it the building of the legacy proper will begin in earnest. This often involves the development of an unnecessary system, training teams of people to become pointlessly expert at it, then attaching it to the existing critical system. The unnecessary system then works its way into the nervous system of the critical system so that its removal becomes impossible. Over time it can become so bloated with diverted essential funds that it threatens the very existence of its host and it is at this point, usually during the term of a plucky successor from a different party, that an emergency is declared, the grateful public are alerted to the menace and the host is either deemed unfit for purpose and in need of overhaul or another unnecessary system is attached to it in an attempt to save it. Whatever happens the last incumbent of the opposing party will always be held responsible.
Politics is the art of creating problems in private in order to solve them in public. Forever. Politicians are like the perpetual engines you can find on Youtube, seeming to rotate slowly under their own power but with no torque thus providing no energy whatsoever and only later to be revealed as actually being turned by a hidden leaf blower. That leaf blower is of course the sponsor, the patron, the man behind the curtain, or less likely, the woman behind the man behind the curtain. These are the elite of the elite, those who issue the instructions, for whom benefit percolates up through the ant hill. They shape the argument, direct the policy, incite the riot, make the donation, take the profit. They are the ones who propagate the idea of the reconfiguration of truth, that the truth is only true if they think it is.
I am really bad at maths, as a kid I would stare at sums until they swam like tadpoles. At school every maths lesson was torture, like being held down with a wet towel over my face. Stop it Radcliffe stop it. I couldn’t get to grips with any of it and around my twelfth birthday I began to suspect that mathematics was an elaborate lie, nothing more than conspiracy, maths simply did not add up, and what the fuck was algebra? I realised that the only part of an equation that mattered was the answer and if I could never understand how it was arrived upon then the teacher’s answer could be wrong and my answer could be right.
‘I only accept it as true if I understand it’ is a very seductive idea but one I grew out of before I was a teenager. It is the philosophy upon which a large part of western politics now rests and is the reason politicians are constantly bemused by their own ignorance. It makes a complete mockery of political debate, as no one knows what they’re talking about but everyone believes what is said. It breeds contempt for experts, for expert opinion and encourages a confederacy of dunces. It makes liars of the most honourable journalists, turning honest reportage into fake news and turning fake news into the readily accepted truth. It makes supporters of the right look crazy to the left and supporters of the left look dangerous to the right. It makes us all vigilant idiots.
It used to be that this kind of chicanery only happened behind closed doors, it even had a name, political intrigue. It was tricky, sneaky, back-handed, still is, only now it’s conducted in public as a kind of endless, stultifying performance art. It is as if they don’t understand that we can see them, we may be bored but we can’t look away. They are too strange, too distant, narcissistic but in a totally oblivious kind of way. They are other people’s children, playing grown ups and having ‘secret’ tea parties with imaginary friends. They crave our attention but can’t stand it if they catch us watching them, hiding their faces behind their tiny little hands. They exist forever in a bubble, a place where it’s okay to wear brass buttoned blazers or knitted tank tops, to kiss lambs and stroke babies, to expect gratitude for knocking a penny off a pint of warm beer, a place where the public only speak when they are spoken to. They are protected yet endangered, doomed but don’t yet know it, they are spoilt and spoiling, fallen organic fruit, slowly giving way to corruption and rot. They are not like us, of us or for us.
In a time when no job is safe, when all of us face the threat of being superseded by a machine or an algorithm one can’t help wondering how high up the list of redundancies the politicians are. They probably take comfort in the belief that it is they that compiles the list but in that they are mistaken, the list compiles itself. If you can replace an accountant or a middle manager with an AI you can certainly replace a politician. I don’t suppose the general public or public servants would miss them, they would be too fascinated by the transition. Not that there would be much happening in parliament as by definition the AI would have to be non-political, non-partisan. So no lies and condescension, no hypocrisy and self-absorption, no tantrums and incompetence. No lobbying, no bribery, no back-stabbing. Doesn’t sound very exciting admittedly but on the upside Westminster could be turned into an arts centre, one with a really big clock, all the AI would need is an Apple Mac and a descent WiFi connection, government could be run from a coffee shop.
We would have entered the age of the bleeding obvious, where policy is driven by common sense and the common good. Where borders are not barriers, where the colour of your skin goes unnoticed and everyone is free to love who they like. An age where the NHS is run by doctors and nurses, where police officer is as aspirational as footballer, where mass transport is affordable and reliable and where banks lend rather than count money. An age of celebrated scientists, where schools and teachers have abundant resources, where people and jobs come before profit, where the tax system can be written on a single piece of paper and where wealth does not make you more equal than others. Solar power, free pizza, sustainable ecology and a unicorn in every back garden. It would be a fucking utopia.
Never going to happen of course, for an AI to take control politicians would first have to vote themselves out of existence and that would be like turkeys voting for Christmas. Although, if turkeys were considering voting for Christmas then one would have to assume they were in a place where there was no Christmas, a place where the only turkeys were cheap, miserable, bastards in thrall to Bernard Matthews, inbred, bloated, destined to be nothing more than a formed-meat product. Under those circumstances who wouldn’t vote for Christmas? A well fed, free-range life with real purpose, ending in celebration, great appreciation and a lemon up your arse. What’s not to like? Perhaps with persuasion politicians can get past self-interest, attain a higher consciousness, see that there is no point in existing in a perpetual state of orchestrated impasse, perhaps, with time, they will come to accept that it’s better to be a Christmas dinner than a turkey twizzler.
I’m off to eat pie in the sky till I die.
Despite the slightly revolutionary tone of this post I am not a natural Tory basher, it’s just that they are the ones in power and are utterly crap at it. I am not a fan of the labour party at the moment either, it seems to me that both parties, and there really are only two, are representative of the polar extremes of political stupidity. Their continued existence in such unabated states of incoherence only goes to prove how unnecessary they are. So the following poem is not partisan, not representative of my politics because I no longer have any. It could just have easily been about labour, it’s just that the Tories are much funnier.
The Secretary’s secretary’s secretary.
Your function is to swivel
to be obedient not fervent.
With me you must seem civil
and nothing less than servant.
So what if we are old white men?
No offence but this is the truth,
government is no place
for those of race
the female persuasion,
We don’t fix things my dear,
we paper over the cracks.
Let me make myself clear,
it is not tax evasion,
we just don’t pay tax.
A man should have a hobby
mine is to imbibe.
If wine comes from a lobby
it is a thank you not a bribe.
I’ll drink anything if it’s free.
Can I just say,
the needs of the many,
if they have any,
the needs of the few.
I don’t wish to condemn,
but there’s one law for me
and there’s one law for you.
When I say you I mean them.
Now please pay attention,
as this might sound strange;
there is no such thing as austerity.
It is like climate change,
simply another way
to make the plebs pay,
for our health care,
I am not being funny
but other people’s money
is there to be spent.
And any apology is only token
are for other fools
and made to be broken
or at the very least, bent.
I don’t give a toss
about mending fences,
one man’s loss
is another man’s expenses.
Well of course our pay rise is twice,
alright then, ten times yours,
we have to pay for our drugs and whores.
Ha, ha, hem, sorry only joking.
Football, beer and a Ruby Murray?
I doubt you were even born
before the internet porn.
For me nothing so tawdry
her name is Audrey
she is very nice
comes from Woking.
My father is a Lord,
for the duration.
He says the best education
is the best you can afford.
I went to Eton.
We politicians are not overpaid
yet so often accused of greed,
whipping boys to be beaten.
But it is quite untrue
I get only what I’m entitled to.
I need a second house
to develop another
a job for my spouse
and where would I be
without a Filipino maid
for my mother?
They call me aloof.
Out of touch.
I am an ordinary man,
Edmund Fortescue the third,
if you cut me I bleed.
Just not very much.
I am proud to be a modern MPee,
you can follow me on the Twitter.
I am actual living proof
that whilst you can’t polish a turd
you can roll it in glitter.