The mind-numbing detail the media went into over Tony Blairís minor health scare this week prompts two questions:
- Why, having publicly fantasised about shooting TB, did Stuart Little impersonator Iain Duncan Smith wish the Prime Minister 'a full and speedy recovery'?
- When you have to live with this level of scrutiny, why on earth do people become politicians?
It can't be the money. Admittedly MPs can make good money from consultancy work, lecturing, cash-for-questions etc., and if you're famous enough you'll get a tidy sum from your boring memoirs. But most politicians don't command the same fees as Bill Clinton. Or even the loose change Michael Portillo presumably gets for his TV appearances/attempts to redefine the word 'pedestrian' with Diane Abbott and Andrew Neill.
It can't be idealism. Has New Labour ever done anything idealistic? Labour has put money into public services, but it's also become embroiled in a cynical and deeply unpopular war, devised policies that wouldnít have sounded odd coming from Norman Tebbit, and generally destroyed what little faith the public had in their politicians. (Even the plan for a vote on fox hunting is looking increasingly like an attempt to win popularity by cashing in on the public's love of animals, which turns out to have been massively overestimated).
It can't be power. The idea that politicians wield power is an odd one. Senior politicians do of course have power, but it's not power in the Ming the Merciless sense. Does anyone really get a thrill from having negotiated a slightly better deal for the UK over EU fishing quotas? Itís not exactly Churchillian stuff: "We will fight the Norwegian trawlermen in the North Sea! Never in the field of fishing quotas have so many cod owed so little to so many tri-lingual negotiations!"
Now look at the downside. Politicians are subject to levels of scrutiny that would drive most people insane. The media lives in constant hope of them fucking up, not just professionally, but also in their personal lives. Politicians had better watch out if they've had an affair, are gay, are fond of getting rat-arsed in restaurants, go on dodgy junkets, or - most heinous of all - were once photographed smoking a badly rolled joint at a party at Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1973.
And what about being so unpopular? Most of us think the world's against us if a handful of people weasel their way out of coming to our birthday party. But politicians are often genuinely hated and despised, sometimes for valid reasons (Blair and his war), sometimes for silly ones (David Mellor because heís ugly.) Either way, it can't be nice waking up every morning and thinking "God, people REALLY hate me. And all because I look like a wax frog who's been left on a radiator."
(Speaking of Mellor, it's a cruel irony that once fuck-ugly politicians have got sufficiently far up the career ladder to get a shag with attractive 'researchers' thanks to the power-as-aphrodisiac effect, having the affair splashed all over the News of the World usually means the end of their political career. For some reason it calls to mind those spiders that get eaten after they've mated.)
All in all, there don't seem to be that many upsides to being a politician. So why do they do it?
One possible answer is: they have no sense of reality.
There's a fair bit of evidence to support this theory. One of the most barking practitioners of reality-avoidance is Edwina Currie, who seems to genuinely think she's not only a beloved elder stateswoman, but also a deeply desirable bit of skirt.
Or Neil Hamilton. The sight of Neil in his Rocky Horror gear has mentally scarred many otherwise normal, heterosexual men, who are now unable to look at an attractive woman in suspenders without thinking of Hamiltonís watery grin and bulging genitals. (What WAS he thinking? If any normal person had humiliated themselves to the extent of the Hamiltons, they'd be begging to be walled up in their home like someone in an episode of Jonathan Creek and left to die from shame).
But perhaps the queerest fish in the barrel is old Tony. He's a regular bloke - who just happens to authorise the use of deadly arsenals of weaponry against other countries then justifies it with transparent lies. He's a woolly jumper, mug-of-tea kind of guy - whoís also a ruthless, dictatorial political animal. He'
everyone's mate - but he can't see that everyone hates him.
We wish him a full and speedy recovery.