It is often said that the most despised people in the country are journalists and estate agents. And while these people sometimes are indeed prize toss pots, there are two other professions that I despise above all others. Actors and politicians. Thing is, acting and being a politician is essentially the same job. They’re not wrong when they say politics is showbusiness for ugly people. Both aspire to earn money by spending their life being insincere. You can’t admire that.
But unlike many, I cannot bring myself to hate Boris Johnson in particular. That’s not because LOL I like his funnee hair and he is a legernd. (I do find it amusing, though, that people will — without a trace of irony — cite this article and others by the (admittedly excellent) Charlie Brooker saying “LOL! CHARLIE BROOKER IS A LEGEND!” It’s all a bit Dan Ashcroft if you ask me. But never mind.)
No, the real reason I don’t hate Boris Johnson is because I can’t stand politicians full stop. To single out one person the way some single out Boris Johnson seems incredibly unfair to me. And the reaction among some people to his election as London Mayor has left me in despair about the state of political discourse right now.
So I was glad to see the balance redressed somewhat by the excellent Nosemonkey yesterday. I was beginning to think I was the only one who couldn’t understand why so many people were queuing up to pour effluent on the man.
It is slightly dangerous territory for me to be talking about London politics. Everything I wrote here applies. But I have been spurred into blogging about this for two reasons. One is that the position of London Mayor is pretty much the only major directly elected post in the country and its effects inevitably reverberate around the country. The second is that the debate itself merits comment because it reflects the shoddy standard of political discourse in the UK as a whole.
I will refrain from commenting too much on the policies of either candidate. I know too little about the policies and obviously my opinions could well be different were I actually a Londoner. But I would probably have reluctantly voted for Brian Paddick. I would probably not have allocated my second preference. Choosing between Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson is a bit like choosing between shit and shite. Forced at gunpoint however, I would plump for Johnson.
I have, after all, voted for him before. A couple of years ago Boris Johnson stood in the election to become Rector of Edinburgh University. He was an early favourite, but then that shady coalition of Labour / Green / People and Planet / whatever in EUSA went on the offensive to produce a highly negative campaign based on Boris Johnson’s support for tuition fees.
The students, being self-interested, rational utility maximisers, decided to vote against the possibility of being seen to favour tuition fees. I voted on principle against this subsidy for the middle class.
Today we have the completely anonymous Mark Ballard as our Rector. Don’t know who Mark Ballard is? Don’t blame you. He used to be a Green MSP but was such a nonentity that he was voted out last year. As such, a genuine nobody is Rector of Edinburgh University. The guy we could have had is now Mayor of London. (Even Magnus Linklater would have been better. I actually met him while he was campaigning and he seemed rather pleasant.)
It is true that Boris Johnson is a bit of a clown. But I don’t see why this is necessarily a barrier to being in public office. People always drone on about how boring politicians are. They complain about bland inoffensive leaders — Blairs, Camerons, Cleggs and the like — who silence independent thinkers or anyone who could be seen as a loose cannon. They despise those Milliblands et al. who climb the greasy pole, toe the party line and so on. And quite rightly.
But then when someone who is charismatic, who is an independent thinker, who will not toe the party line comes along, apparently he is unfit for office. You can’t have it both ways.
Plus, the notion that over a million Londoners voted for Boris Johnson “just for a laugh” is highly patronising. I am pretty misanthropic, but even my hatred for the electorate does not stoop this low. I do not doubt that some people voted for Johnson on this basis, but to put his victory down to this phenomenon alone is surely wide of the mark. It makes you look petulant.
Also, I surely need not say that voting against Boris Johnson because he is a character is every bit as pathetic as voting for him for that reason. Yet, as far as I can tell, it is the number one reason why people have been so averse to a Johnson victory. It is also odd that people should complain about Johnson for being famous for being maverick, only to vote for Ken Livingston who… is famous for being a maverick.
To say that because Boris is a bumbler when he talks means that he will be a bumbler in control of London is pathetic. Political leaders don’t “run” anything — that’s the job of the civil service and what have you. Boris Johnson won’t be sitting in front of a real-life game of Sim City. Political leaders are public figureheads who canvass opinion, bring ideas to the table and direct policy and they are only one (albeit prominent) branch in a large tree. I see nothing in Boris Johnson’s character that will prohibit him from doing this job just fine.
And being a clown is, at least, a whole lot better than being malicious. Because that is what Livingstone is. While the character assassinations of Boris Johnson are ten a penny, people on the left tend to be an awful lot more quiet about Livingstone’s many failings. His inexplicable inability to simply apologise to Oliver Finegold for his drunken remarks; his failure to distance himself from homophobic Islamist Yusuf al-Qaradawi; his hokey-cokey in-out-in-out, I’m not running, yes I am but as an independent, then I’ll rejoin the Labour party, shake it all about. Don’t forget also that he rushed to the door like a yapping dog with its tail wagging to make excuses for the brutal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes.
Of course, Boris Johnson is not just a clown. He is a toff. And he is a Tory. Booooo!
Well, all I can say to that is, grow up. This is just the most pathetic way to discuss politics. If you have to resort to invoking the days of Thatcher to persuade people not to vote Conservative, you must be scraping the barrel. Yet it is a staple of British political discourse.
The Labour Government could go round the country literally raping everyone. When someone calls them up on it, you can be sure the Government will turn round and splutter, “Ah yes — but the Tories brought you the POLL TAX. Booooo!” And the sheep on the left will be won over. They will hi-5 each other for what they see as an excellent sucker-punch (which is in fact a tired, over-used, irrelevant line), hiss at the Tories and let the Labour Government get back to raping everyone again.
I am in little position to comment on how bad Margaret Thatcher’s government was because I am too young to remember anything substantial of it. But it seems to me as though Thatcher is vilified mostly for ushering in some changes that were no doubt difficult to take at the time but which were necessary in the long run. Socialism is a discredited ideology — almost the entire history of the twentieth century should tell you this. Almost every other comparable country has gone through a similar process. Besides, Labour has done little to reverse this, so to turn to them while blaming Thatcher is hollow.
Even if I am wrong on this, you must realise that invoking Thatcher will not cut it much longer. For one thing, this stuff happened twenty or thirty years ago. Many voters (like myself) now do not even remember that far back, and politics and the Conservative Party are operating in very different environments now. It’s not fair on today’s Conservatives to punish them for the actions of the previous generation, and it takes the people with whom you are debating for mugs to crudely reduce everything to this. And it makes you look like a tosser as well.
The thing is, the Conservatives may have the Poll Tax (from twenty years ago). But Labour have the Iraq War (with goodness knows how many people killed) from this decade. There was their bullying approach to the media that went along with the Iraq War in this decade. They have created a climate of fear and general suspicion of anyone with “Mongolian eyes”, leading to at least one unnecessary death in this decade. They have turned this country into the most spied-upon in the world in this decade. They have begun to construct the database state, with all the security risks that entails, along with the hopelessly expensive ID cards in this decade.
They have abolished the 10p income tax rate. That would be bad enough from the Conservatives, but for a “Labour” government it shows a scandalous disregard for the concept of the progressive tax system. Labour have treated the voters with utter contempt, taking their position in power for granted.
Although I have moved on to the more general point about the standard of political discourse, this is related to the recent Mayoral contest. You could argue that all that has nothing to do with Ken Livingstone. But he helped legitimise all this by re-joining the Labour Party at the height of Tony Blair’s courtship with George Bush.
With all of this blood on their hands, with their power-grabbing, and their utter contempt for civil liberties, what is it that keeps them in power? The best response is “Maggie stole my milk… in 1970”? Get real. This approach has literally allowed the Labour Government to get away with murder. Why should I be prepared to give this Labour mob another chance?
You could argue that whatever Labour do, the Conservatives must always be worse because they are more “right wing”. But this argument does not cut it either. For one thing, it is precisely this approach that allows Labour to get away with all of this. The left just shrug their shoulders and mumble, “could be worse”. The Conservatives, on the other hand, are scrutinised for slightest bawhair of a possibility that they might infringe on people’s liberties. I am certain that the Conservatives would never have been allowed to get away with the Iraq War, the creeping privatisation of the NHS, ID cards and you name it in the way that Labour have been. This alone is reason enough to vote Labour out.
Furthermore, to expect the Labour Party to take a liberal approach is asking too much of them. Their traditional ideology is not liberalism, contrary to what some might tell you. It is socialism. Say what you like about the Conservatives, but at least they have a liberal wing in their party. With Labour you just get one kind of authoritarianism or another.
As for the argument that Boris Johnson will not be a good leader because he is a toff, that is just nonsensical bigotry of the highest order. Being of a certain social class should be not a barrier to holding office. After all, Boris Johnson did not choose his father.
Anyone who knows me will know that I am not rich in the slightest. But if I happened to have been born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I would like to think that I would not be subjected to this kind of bigotry. Justin in the comments at Nosemonkey’s says,
I tell you what, I will [get over the class prejudice] if they will. You obviously haven’t been swimming in some of the Tory cesspits I have in the last few months.
I am not a “party identifier” — at least not between Labour and the Conservatives. I was brought up by SNP-supporting parents. As I grew up I drifted towards the Liberal Democrats. From this position, I see a great deal more “snide remarks, personal attacks and class prejudice” from Labour supporters than I do from Conservative supporters. In fact, it is one of the things that has ultimately turned me completely off the Labour Party over the past few years.
I obviously haven’t been swimming in Justin’s Tory cesspits either. But if anyone can find me an example of someone saying that you should not vote for someone because they are too working class to do their job properly, I would happily accept defeat on this point. But I have never heard it said. But to complain that someone is too posh is par for the course.
Besides, to attack the Conservatives for being full of toffs misses the fact that plenty of Labour members are also toffs. Tony Blair isn’t exactly a miner. And the stuff about Gordon Brown being from a working class area only tells half the story. I have lived almost all my life in that same working class area, and people round here know that he was a privileged son of the manse who got special treatment during his education. So it’s vote Tory, get a toff; vote Labour, get a toff. Not that this should matter in the slightest of course.
To bring all of this back to where I started, remember that I am not a supporter of Boris Johnson. My point is that Boris Johnson as Mayor of London is not remotely as offensive as some people are making out.
This is a personal view, but I would never vote for someone seeking a third term unless they were exceptionally appealing. But the third term is when the rot sets in, if it didn’t during the second term. That’s when power gets to their heads. That’s when they lose touch of reality. In this light, a change is not all that bad.
Believe it or not, Labour do not have a divine right to power. Even Scotland, with all of its Labour rotten boroughs in the west, realised this last year. Just like in London, “the enemy” got in instead. While you may argue that the SNP are not Tories, they are nonetheless loathsome. But guess what. Scotland didn’t implode one year ago when they were elected. In fact, the SNP administration is a breath of fresh air, and it’s certainly a lot better than the prospect of a third Labour-dominated Executive. I don’t see why Boris Johnson should be different.
Of course, he could very well be a disaster. But the point is that candidates shouldn’t be judged on their background, their hairstyle or the colour of their rosette. They should be judged on their policies and their record. I’ve skim-read Boris Johnson’s manifesto and I have not seen anything particularly offensive and I see nothing that disqualifies him in my mind. Even if people do disagree with Johnson’s policies, this is fair enough — but I didn’t hear any of it. I just heard about his posh accent.
I am greatly saddened by the nature of the debate and the sheer hypocrisy that so many people are showing. Too many people are making terrible excuses for a disastrous Labour government. I blame these people for the road this country is headed down.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. Maybe I am asking too much. But any notion I had before that political ideologies are formed, debated and voted for on the basis of rational, intelligent thought have been shattered this week. What Geoffrey Brennan and Loren Lomasky said was true after all. Voting for a political party is just like supporting a football team for some people, with accident of birth and plain old prejudice at the basis of their support. I’d prefer it if these people could leave their childish desire to be part of a tribe in the football ground rather than in the ballot box where they are controlling my life.
The cheesy line goes, “if you don’t vote, you get the politicians you deserve.” Well, it’s not true. Politicians can’t do anything without votes. But if you vote for someone because they are the “least worst” or because “at least they’re not the Tories”, then you do get the politicians you deserve. My anger stems from the fact that I do not deserve these politicians.
Update: I’ve written a second post on this topic. I hope this concisely clarifies my intentions with this post. I also respond to the feedback.