Quite good that Sergio Aguero isn’t he? Thrilling to watch, scores buckets of goals and an all round world class player. Shame he’s one of those professional footballers. Same with the neurosurgeon that took the tumour off my girlfriends optic nerve, an exquisitely skilled person one must admit, but he’s just one of those career brain surgeons. They’re all the same that lot.
If you have already cottoned on to the point I’m making, congratulations on possessing a functioning brain stem. You might accuse me of being facile, and you’d be right, but more facile than the legions of people from all walks of life who scrunch up their sour little faces and spit out the words ‘professional politician’ like it’s some sort of epithet whenever the topic of how the country might be governed arises? No. These people are genuinely amongst the stupidest to ever live, and perhaps amongst even those who might ever live in the millennia to come.
I am raising what you would consider to be a none too controversial notion, namely that when it comes to the business of leading a nation you might want the people in charge to be good at it. But try putting that opinion out there and watch the self righteous trolls pour out of the woodwork and start slapping their keyboards in apoplexy. “What do they know about running anything, they just live in a Westminster bubble” screams one, his wife and child cowering behind the sofa, “Don’t know nothing about real life, just a bunch of fakes, they’re all the same” screeches another before hitting the town with thirty six other young women wearing leggings and faux leather jackets from H&M. These handy strawmen bring up a number of the delusions propping up the tired anti-politics zeitgeist, and I’ll address them in turn.
The first part is best dealt with as a whole. What do politicians know about running anything? How can a party leader, or minister who has survived the intense competition of the Westminster crucible, outmaneuvered plotting cabals and slanderous smear campaigns, who has sharpened their skills of negotiation and compromise to a razors edge just to avoid being consumed by her power hungry colleagues at every turn, what can these people know about leadership? Well probably quite a lot. One might not like the way politics runs behind the scenes but similarly one cannot deny that culture of competition ensures that only those with sharp instincts and a natural talent to lead people, to get people onside, can rise to the top tier of the political world. One might bring up accusations of cronyism or nepotism as a counterpoint. Certainly, we are currently governed by a tightly knit group of toffs who probably decided to rule the world’s eighth largest economy while towel whipping each other in the shower, but they are far from the only tightly knit group of toffs out there with ambition. Even I would begrudgingly admit they had to defeat rivals through political skill in order to get where they are today. (Finally, to any UKIP supporters who are reading this and feeling smug that their glorious leader is some kind anti-professional political everyman, just a normal bloke who goes down the pub like the rest of us etc. consider the following. How many normal blokes from the pub do you know who have managed to not only turn a fringe party into a noxious miasma suffusing the entire political landscape, but has also managed to get some 30% of the populace saying they would vote for him on a platform of privatising the health service and withdrawing our participation from our single largest economic partner. The man is not only a professional politician, he is the professional politician, a singularly talented individual who has magicked the most meteoric rise in British politics for some 15 years. You are deluding yourselves. )
Sometimes people make an argument that ministerial positions should be held by people with relevant experience, you know how it goes – “why can’t a doctor be the health minister”, well he doesn’t represent nurses, and other staff and managers, and for that matter patients so it isn’t fair, and you keep following that logic until you just get a big committee of everyone who is affected by healthcare issues, which is everyone full stop, so you decide to elect a figurehead with excellent communication abilities and the relevant skills required to navigate the complex structures of government and BAM you’ve just invented representative democracy. You can replace healthcare with anything by the way, ttransport defence, energy. It’s fun, try it!
Next up is the notion that ‘They’re all the same’, this can be viewed in two ways. Firstly at the individual level, yes there are certain characteristics that a lot of politicians share. They are generally well educated. Yes a lot of them have studied PPE or something like it, which funnily enough has a lot of relevance to, y’know, being in politics. They have either had success in some other field of life, be it media, healthcare, business, or any number of other things becoming a pillar of their community, or risen through their party and gained enough of their fellow party members’ confidence to be selected to run as an MP. They sometimes wear suits. Beyond that, politicians come from a wide range of backgrounds. (Yes, British politics is still too white and too male, but all the mainstream political groups are tackling that issue, but when trolls on the daily mail comment section bring this up I’m not sure diversity is at the forefront of their mind.)
The second and more pernicious interpretation of that statement is that all the parties are the same. If you think this, it is wilful stupidity, and that alone, you have to blame. The parties are actually very different from one and other, what is actually ‘always the same’ is the British government, which is a related but non identical thing. There are some 650 MPs sitting in the house of commons. The vast majority of them are drawn from the three mainstream political parties. You might notice that even if one party got 100% of the MPs, 650 people might still be something of a skeleton crew with which to run the country. The Civil Service, a vast and slow to change organisation makes up a much larger portion of what we consider the government. This also circles back to a previous point that a lot of people seem to think that since every government has rudely failed to cater to their every whim, they are all the same. No, you are just a dickhead.
(A neat solution (that must never be implemented) to the ‘all the same’ bullshit is that come voting time names or party affiliations are taken off the ballots, replaced with a handful of key manifesto pledges. If you can’t tell who you are voting for by looking at what you are voting for, maybe you shouldn’t be voting at all. You could even throw a couple of fake ones in there that if chosen, spoil the ballot. Completely immoral and probably illegal, but a boy can dream.)
Some people seem to think the Government is meant to function like Amazon. You click the little button and some unfortunate, geotagged drone in a warehouse the size of Alaska dutifully squirrels out whatever latest technobauble or picture of a dog in human clothes or whatever you ordered and sends it on its way to your doorstep. Similarly, you put your X in the box and your elected representative hurries off to Parliament to start pushing through legislation to give you money, and make your dick bigger, and stop Sandra from accounts eating your special gluten free salad. Not so. And when none of this happens, some particularly stupid subset of the above morons are prone to start bawling. “Why can’t the government be more efficient, like private companies? I’m literally an adult baby and I want my milk boo-hoo” and so on in that fashion, to which the answer is obvious. Companies exist to make money – they mutually agree with customers to provide goods or services, the profit numbers go up or down and that’s how they keep score. Governments exist to, depending on who you ask, improve, regulate, and protect the lives of tens of millions of people, all of whom must be considered equal and none of whom entered willingly into any kind of contract. It’s a considerably larger and messier task and requires a great deal more care and compromise than selling televisions.
Am I suggesting that we all treat politicians like as unto gods, and uncritically accept whatever they do? Of course not. As with any profession, there are plenty of genuine fuckers in there and they deserved to be rooted out for the common good. Journalists and inquiries have a part to play in this, as do the public at large, by throwing light on shady practises and voting them out at election time. But I am suggesting that it might not be wise to treat politics with the same kind of apathy that people usually reserve for picking a can of tinned tomatoes off the supermarket shelf; they really are all the same.