Skip to content

Politicians are human – well, most of them

April 22, 2017

William Hogarth – Soliciting Votes

Yesterday there was a knock on my front door. Amid the usual sound and fury of the dog giving a passing imitation of a thigh-chewing Rottweiler (she isn’t one by the way – she just demands respect) I opened the door to a mild-mannered chap who turned out to be my local county councillor.

In the UK, county councils look after roads and social services, including the funding of care homes. Councillors get expenses, but no salaries. So unless they’re retired, they usually have a day job. They serve on councils for a number of reasons. Perhaps because they care about their communities. Because they love committees, god help them. Maybe because they have political ambitions – getting involved in local politics is a popular route towards Parliament. Possibly because they get tangential benefits from the networking.

Anyway, we have county council elections coming up, so this chap was out knocking doors. I felt for him a little, because the local elections, which the media would normally have taken very seriously as an indicator of the fortunes of the main political parties, have been somewhat overshadowed by the general election that the government called a couple of days earlier.

It was the first time I’d met a local councillor in forty-five years as a voter. I’ve met a few members of Parliament and the odd peer (odd being the operative word). But this guy was, as far as I could see, entirely normal. It turned out that he was a Conservative, which was not surprising considering that I live in a fairly well-heeled neighbourhood.

We had a brief door-step conversation. I could have asked him in, but I felt that this would have been a little unfair, since I would never vote for his lot in a month of Sundays. In fact, given their stance on Brexit, I wouldn’t vote for them in a century of leap years. But he is my councillor, so I told him how pissed off I was about the council’s policy of saving a minuscule amount of money by switching off the street lights in my road between midnight and six in the morning. I also told him my thoughts on Brexit.

I could have laid into him about the state of the roads, about the county’s financial incompetence and about their difficulty in funding care home places for those who need them. But his party doesn’t control the council, so what would be the point? Actually, I should have, because they may gain control, given that the entire country apart from Scotland seems about to be rinsed in blue.

But I didn’t, and I didn’t even tell him that I wouldn’t be voting for him. He was such an inoffensive chap, and I didn’t want to make him cry with a stream of invective about his disgraceful party. He disarmed me to an extent by telling me that he also opposed Brexit, but what could he do?

Resign, I suppose, but that would make as much difference to the national discourse as a single plankton does to the composition of an ocean.

Anyway, after three or four minutes of conversation I took his leaflet and let him get on his way.

All of which serves to remind me that people like me are quite happy to sit at our computers pouring online disdain and derision over politicians whose policies we don’t like. It’s easy to do that, because we can vent our fury without erupting with spittle-flecked rage in person at the people we demonise. Just as it’s easy to make rude signs at bad motorists in full knowledge that they’ll never notice our gestures, and say nasty things about our work colleagues, but never to their faces.

And it’s easy to forget that whatever their motives, however obnoxious their beliefs, the vast majority of politicians are just human beings like you and me, with their own entirely human hopes, fears, and ambitions. Even Donald Trump and Nigel Farage, I have to concede.

Yes, there are dangerous people in politics – dangerous because of perceptions skewed by lifetimes in their ideological bubbles, or because of egotism, greed and bigotry. No doubt there are also a few Frank Underwoods and Francis Urquharts out there – in reality as well as fiction.

We might think of politicians as pond life, worse even than estate agents and insurance salespeople. We might laugh at them when they choke with self-righteous bile about the opposition, in front of crowds of puppy-like supporters. We might heave with contempt about their lies, their spin and their hypocrisy.

But we’d miss them if they weren’t there, and we were ruled instead by some thuggish junta. And we should never forget that there are a good few – like, I suspect my visitor of the other night, and like poor Jo Cox, the MP who was gunned down last year – who genuinely believe that politics is about improving lives, doing good.

And before we are tempted to throw eggs at their pinstripe suits and shriek in the ears of the obnoxious, we should remember to do unto others as we would be done by.

I know this all sounds a bit pious. There are always people who are angry with politicians. I’m one of them. But anger is one thing. Abuse makes nothing better – not the target, not the originator and most likely not the situation.

Advice to myself that I shall no doubt forget next time I hear some self-righteous lemming-herder remind us that the people have spoken, next time I see a vicious headline in the Daily Mail calling out traitors and saboteurs, and next time I hear Donald Trump’s whiney, sneery voice and his piggy eyes bulging with faux anger.

At that point I shall probably rise up, and in an incoherent rage kick the dog and pelt the TV with beanie babies.

Over the next few weeks I fear there might be many such moments. Perhaps I should install a protective cage around the TV and go for a dose of electro-convulsive therapy. I was joking about the dog of course.

When the election’s over, I’ll sigh with relief, happily contemplating the impending demise of the nation, secure in the knowledge that no politician is likely to knock on my door for the next few years. I shall remove the cage around the TV, and get back to watching House of Cards.

From → Politics, UK

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: