Thursday, May 14, 2009

Time for a clear-out?

Here's Shuggy mentioning (in passing) the gradual corrosion of political authority that all long-standing governments go through:

"We saw this with the twilight of the Tory years too - only these revelations were more sexy and interesting. Thankfully I don't live in London so I haven't disappeared into the Westminster-media navel-gazing loop that some of y'all live in but doesn't it work something like this: you stay in power too long, you expose yourself to this type of revelation because a) you've made too many enemies, b) as your power visibly fades, those in a position to leak lose any interest in loyalty to their political masters, assuming that they won't be the masters for much longer?"

I'd go along with that. A few years ago, a political scientist (it's his day-job) I know said to me that politics is a lot more boring and straightforward than you think. His gist was that the public don't care about politics half as much as the political class think they do. 

The critical voters - the ones whose change-of-heart decides an election - are often motivated less by any strong feelings about policies or the conduct of the government, and more by a simple decision (taken fairly lightly) that 'it's time for the other lot to have a go'.

I dimly remember another writer (was it Gerry Stoker?) saying something about how there is a fair amount of evidence showing that when you iron out the kinks, governments generally lose 1% of their voters each year as part of the process outlined above and that it's a good thing because their fitness for government wanes as they lose touch with the public.

All of this is, on my part, completely unscientific, but it reflects my prejudices. I mention this because another one of my prejudices is that people who work in politics or write about it, massively magnify the public's response to the subject.

Many times over the past few weeks I've seen politicos and hacks talking about how 'people are furious with us.'

I really don't think this is the case. They are, for the most part, annoyed about something that they don't really care about very much. Those that do say they are furious would be furious anyway. Like Shuggy's republicans who want the Queen opening Parliament in a tracksuit, people who hate politicians in general have placed themselves at the front of an imaginary army Whose Day Has Come.

And on issues like this, newspapers can play a huge role. They can switch the music in a way that will probably benefit UKIP in June (and may have unintended consequence of benefiting the BNP as well).

And while I really think that Gordon Brown's leadership in recent months has been appalling, I similarly doubt if that soap-style narrative that obsesses Westminster types really makes much difference in the long run.

I suspect that, when the dust settles, the over-riding '1% disillusion a year' pattern will continue to assert itself until there is a change of government.

One final thing: I'm firmly of the view that this expenses storm is over-stated, that there is something of a reasonable explanation for a lot of claims that seem superficially evil. There's clearly a culture in Westminster that has grown up over time, and has been actively nurtured by staff in the Fees Office - that has been exposed in a way that reflects very badly on MPs. I'm also of the view that the the whole question of transparency has to be viewed through the filter of it's assynchronous nature - a point that Stephen Fry and George Foulkes makes about journalists and that Tom P regularly makes about company directors and shareholders.

All of that said, some of the fiddles really have pointed to a handful if sleazy shifty bastards who deserve to be chucked out by their constituency parties. Both Labour and the Tories have a few - and I hope they get deselected.

I'd like to see more politicians deselected more often - not on matters of policy, but on their character, their conduct and their willingness to be flexible, conversational and vaguely human.

I'd love the professional politicans - people with no real background outside the Balliol >>> think-tank >>> safe-seat gravy train to get chucked aside and replaced by people with a record of activity in local government and their constituency parties.

Anything that chucks out a few professional politicians will not be entirely a bad thing.


Andreas Paterson said...

I think you might be right on this score, most of my non political friends were not exactly fuming with rage over this. TBH I don't think they were all that surprised.

In some ways I think it's us folks who try to convince people that politicians are mostly decent sorts who are more pissed off because we've been proven wrong.

CharlieMcMenamin said...

I can only offer my own experience: the apolitical people around me genuinely are furious about this. Something deep in the political culture - perhaps what Orwell called the 'innate decency' of British people - seems to have been offended.

I think you're going to get your wish to see more MPs deselected. I'm not sure it's going to stop there however.

Clifford Singer said...

I agree with Charlie - there's a huge amount of anger. Paul, I think you're right about this in other contexts - "people who work in politics or write about it, massively magnify the public's response to the subject" - but this time that doesn't hold true.

mikeovswinton said...

Well the Taxpayers' Alliance is looking into initiating private prosecutions so Clifford and Charlie will get their public spankings. I must say that where I go I tend to hear the same old same old from the folks around me - usually about soccer, rugby league and soul/jazz music. I heard a joke about one of the politicos the other night, but we laughed and passed on.
The interesting thing in your post is the issue of the Fees Office. Breakfast Time last saturday or sunday had Kevin Maguire and Michael Brown- the ex-Tory MP- on. Brown's comments about this matter- including about the office - were very interesting. If they are on iplayer check them out. I think he may have been saying it was all down to Thatch, but perhaps I just heard what I wanted to. Before they started to discuss the important stuff like Bolton v Sunderland.

Paulie said...

It's really hard, isn't it? No one who visits political blogs can really call this one - there's no point in pretending that we aren't far-flung outliers and even our own immediate circles are very unlikely to be in any way representative of the wider conversation.

Funny how the TaxPayer's Alliance aren't interested in suing the thieving shitheads who have relieved us of £billions in the last year or so, innit?