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Charles Kennedy: Why You Don't Have to Feign Interest in Politics Anymore
13 January 2006
Every so often a survey demonstrates a supposedly worrying lack of interest in politics on the part of the British public. You know the sort of thing - nine out of 10 people think Gordon Brown is a fictional character, or that Bill Oddie is prime minister. But the events surrounding Charles Kennedy's resignation really do make you think that taking an interest in politics is time that might be better spent collecting pottery frogs, reading Chris Ryan novels, staring at a wall, etc.
Superficially, Kennedy's resignation isn't the most earth-shattering event, probably ranking somewhere below the return of K9 in Dr Who in the public consciousness. But it does serve to illustrate two deep-seated problems with politics in the UK:
The way events at Westminster are hopelessly distant from what real people are thinking; and
Most of our politicians are about as exciting as a trip to Alton Towers when it's shut.
For a pisshead, Kennedy was remarkably dull. There aren't any pictures of him falling out of a cab outside Annabel's, or twatting Lembit Opik in a pointless drunken scuffle outside The Ivy. Nonetheless, Kennedy's resignation was pretty inevitable for the simple reason that he was a PR liability.
If he'd continued as leader, every subsequent newspaper article and TV report about him would have brought up, so to speak, his 'drinking habits'. Any gaffe, however minor, would have been attributed to the electric soup. If he'd been photographed drinking anything stronger than orange juice, there'd be the headline 'IS KENNEDY BACK ON THE BOOZE?' (Actually they'd be far more tortuous: 'LIBERAL DRAM-OCRAT', etc.)
But actually talk to people about Kennedy and there's a surprising level of support for him. And judging by a trawl of the Internet, comments like these are fairly representative.
It's not too great a leap of logic to suggest that it's this sort of thing that distances the public from politics. We're hardly Kennedy groupies, but it's as though the public has a more forgiving and slightly more mature view of the whole business and doesn't want a fairly well-liked politician to stand down if he can deal with his problems. What do we get instead? A tiny media circus obsessed with *when* Kennedy should stand down, but not *whether* he should.
Meanwhile the forthcoming Lib Dem leadership contest brought about by Kennedy's fondness for a tipple highlights the other big problem with modern British politics: the fact that so many of our politicians have all the gravitas of snot.
With Kennedy's departure, the not-so-young pretenders have stepped forward: Menzies Campbell, Simon Hughes, Mark Oaten and Chris Huhne. Campbell and Hughes have already managed to put in crap performances during PM's question time, suggesting they're no real threat to Tony Blair.
Unfortunately, the non-thrilling nature of the contenders runs a bit deeper. Campbell is, to put it bluntly, too old, while Hughes is a member of what could well be the least cool organisation in the world. (Bafflingly, the site says: 'Christians of different denominations and different backgrounds have seen the purpose of government through different eyes. But one definition which has stood the test of time is "to limit the effects of the fall and to promote righteousness".' Shit, we didn't realise Adam and Eve were part of Lib Dem policy. Perhaps all trees of knowledge should carry a health warning in future.)
This might seem like more fish-in-a-barrel Christian baiting, but Hughes' Christian views are surely connected to his annoyingly vague anti-abortion stance, which hardly counts in his favour, whether you're a liberal or a Liberal.
To be honest we don't know much about the other candidates, although first impressions aren't great. Mark Oaten is a professional politician, having spent his entire working life in politics, as a councillor and lobbyist before becoming an MP. Meanwhile Chris Huhne is a classic high-achiever, having been educated at Westminster School, the Sorbonne and Magdalen College, Oxford. He's written four books on economics, including two on European monetary union. At one level this is impressive. On another, it looks as the the Lib Dems have got their own John Redwood.
We're probably being a bit unfair on these individuals, but fuck it - it's hard to imagine that any of them are going to set the political world on fire. It actually makes you wish that more, not less, politicians were pissheads. Seeing Charles Kennedy, David Cameron and Tony Blair collectively deciding to 'sort it out in the car park' wouldn't be pretty, but at least it would be worth paying attention to.