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Home > Culture and Society

The TFT Guide to... Making Politics Palatable

13 May 2006

It's pretty much accepted that Tony Blair is a bit fucked at the moment. Of course, this doesn't automatically mean a Tory victory next time. Gordon Brown is Labour's trump card, along with the fact that people genuinely hate the Tories. The party isn't over, it's just that the only people left are a bloke passed out in the kitchen and a clique of wankers smoking skunk in the living room. And the person you fancied has long since gone home with someone else to do sex.

As has been noted by every commentator under the sun, part of the problem is that New Labour is afflicted by the same problems as the Tories before they got booted out. In 1997, people were bored and tired of the Major government. It wasn't going anywhere (cf. the cones hotline), and it had become associated with various types of 'sleaze'. Despite the successful reinvention of the Labour party, the election victory was there for the taking. Governments lose elections, oppositions don't win them, as the cliché goes.

But if the events of 2006 are duplicating those of the 90s, we can't help but wonder if politics is doomed to be like this for ever and ever. If the answer is 'yes', then we're looking at a fairly barren political landscape for the foreseeable future, including lower and lower turnouts and zombie-like voter apathy. With this in mind, TFT came up with some suggestions for politicians that might make politics worth taking an interest in.

....


1) If you make a mistake, for fuck's sake just say so.

It's hardly surprising that the government makes mistakes. Government is a vast mega-organisation, dealing with everything from war to the regulations governing garden centres. What's amazing is the way that politicians, almost without exception, refuse to accept that mistakes have ever been made. Only rarely will they admit to an actual mistake or error of judgement, and only then when something incontrovertibly bad happens, e.g. it turns out that Ian Huntley has been doing work experience in Tammy Girl.

To avoid admitting mistakes, politicians usually do one of two things:

Find a way of redefining the word 'mistake' so that it becomes a euphemism like 'systemic failure', or 'a decision made in the light of the available information';

Flatly deny that a mistake was made, and doggedly stick to this line even when everyone who isn't in a coma can see that it was. If a minister decided that plumbers should be allowed to perform operations for the NHS, they'd still be claiming the policy was successful when the mortality rate for hip replacement surgery reached 100 per cent.

Thus it would be nice to see some honesty about mistakes. Voters realise that no one is right *all* the time (and if they were, they'd just be insufferable cunts anyway).


2) Treat the voters like adults.

Most adults, even those of us who are rather juvenile and immature, are adult in some respect. We have jobs, we have homes, we have sex and relationships, we have problems, we get made redundant - all manner of good and bad things happen, and, to varying degrees, we cope with it. (And when you consider that life often is a piece of shit, most of us probably should give ourselves a little pat on the back at this point, just for not retreating from life entirely and curling up in a ball under the bed clutching a teddy.)

Politicians seem to be ignorant of this fact. Instead they see the UK as one giant kindergarten, where voters have to be spoon-fed simple ideas. It's a dismal situation, and exactly the sort of thing that has led to so much simplistic nonsense under New Labour. If we went to war in Iraq because of some form of realpolitik or pressure from the US, then say so - don't pretend we're there out of some sudden love of oppressed peoples.


3) Decide whether you really want to go into politics.

Here's a little test. If you're a politician, or thinking of becoming one, ask yourself: do I want to be a politician because:

A) I want to change society for the better
B) I have deep-seated convictions about issues like justice and fairness
C) I think I can make a difference, whether big or small
D) I want to go on holiday with Cliff Richard
If the answer is D, then go into fucking showbiz. Likewise, if you see politics as simply a way to make money, then get a job in the City. Applying this simple test could have averted so much sleaze, whether it was 'cash for questions' or the endless nest-feathering that's got New Labour into so much trouble.


4) Ditch the PR.

Public relations is essentially a disease that's infected modern society. At almost every level PR is shite, whether it's press officers attempting to manage the news, or commercial PRs sending out press releases claiming that a new toothbrush with differently coloured bristles represents 'a paradigm shift in oral health'.

When the government engages in PR, usually badly, it's more abhorrent than being asked to believe some pseudo-scientific crap about toothbrushes. When we're talking about serious issues, e.g. war, does any minister seriously think that poncing around a military base in Basra for a few hours being matey with the squaddies (who'll probably be court-martialled if they so much as hint that they'd rather not be there) actually *means* anything?

It's questionable how much PR really achieves. It probably sells a few more toothbrushes, and in the case of New Labour a concerted PR effort *did* revamp the image of the party. But fundamentally PR is without substance, and this has become all too apparent with New Labour. They may have managed to create an effective media machine, but all the nice suits and snappy soundbites in the world count for very little when members of the public can't get an appointment at the dentist, or the coffins are being unloaded from the RAF Hercules again.

And on a related note:


5) Why not spend some time actually governing?

Government ministers are busy people. And you know why? Because they spend at least half their time giving interviews, appearing at photo-opportunities and attending every pointless 'event' under the sun.

Any journalist quickly realises that ministers spend a hell of a lot of time doing things that aren't really benefiting the country. A particular favourite is showing up at events that they don't need to be at. They might be pointless conferences that are vaguely related to their area of government, or they can be launches of 'initiatives' that they think it will look good to be at. If the NSPCC launches a campaign called 'Murdering Kids is Bad', you can bet some minister or other will show up, irrespective of whether it's (a) going to prevent more kids being murdered, and (b) the fact that no normal person would attempt to argue that murdering kids is good.

Worse still are the countless 'evening dos' organised by every organisation under the sun. It must be hell being a minister's diary assistant: 'I need an answer about what you're doing on Tuesday night, health minister. Are you going to the dinner marking the bicentenary of the Royal Society, the BMA's debate on the Patients' Charter, or the FHM Britain's Fittest Nurse Awards 2006?'

At one level it's good that ministers (and politicians in general) have some sort of contact with the public. But what is time better spent, turning up at the opening of a factory (even if it is providing 3,000 new jobs in the north east, etc.) or actually managing your department effectively to make sure more factories like it get built?


6) Stop lying.

Very few people are in favour of lying. Maybe it's the simple Kantian principle that no one likes to be lied to, or maybe a society that was entirely composed of liars would soon become extinct:


'Did you shut the city gates to keep the barbarians out?'

'Er, yeah.'


Politicians seem to have got into the habit of lying whenever it's expedient - although they don't usually call it that. Instead, as in the case of WMD, they tend to create a mesh of interlinking half-truths, assumptions, unsubstantiated comments, dubious 'facts' and linguistic obfuscation. It's incredibly hard to pin down a lie in the normal 'yes/no' sense, e.g. 'Did you eat all the chocolates?' Instead anyone interested in the truth has to unpick the web bit by bit. It's a bit like Ker-Plunk in that respect, and, just like Ker-Plunk, when the lies finally start to unravel, the whole set-up comes tumbling down.

....

Even this handful of fairly obvious recommendations would transform politics, turning it from a childish Westminster game into something that normal, fairly grown-up people might take a real interest in. Sadly, we can't see it happening. Although they'll never admit it, most politicians love the game of politics and all its status and perks more than actual business of making society better. Which is why we seem doomed to be governed by the Blairs and Prescotts and Jowells of the world. But hey, who cares about life in the UK when you can go on holiday with the guy who gave us 'Mistletoe and Wine'?



Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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