Not owning a television means that you spend a good deal of time online and often come across the most fascinating things. Browsing through YouTube recently, I came across a short Guardian interview with Chris Mullin (former Labour MP and author of A Very British Coup).
The subject of the interview was the public’s dissatisfaction with politicians. Buried in the interview are two extraordinary statements which demonstrate how little politicians understand their relationship with the electorate.
The first was “There is an interesting question, as to why – when Parliament is full of ex-teachers and doctors and people in respected professions – as soon as they put themselves up for election and enjoy the confidence, apparently, of the electorate, they are suddenly turned into pariahs overnight. It’s a bit of of an enigma.”
Leaving aside the question of whether doctors* and teachers are as respected these days as Mr. Mullins seems to think they are, he seems to completely miss a major fact about current parliamentary elections – the fact that most of us are voting tactically.
I voted Tory between 1983 and 2010. I was not voting FOR Margaret Thatcher, John Major, William Hague, Michael Howard and David Cameron – I was voting AGAINST Neil Kinnock, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Very few people I have known have enthusiastically supported the policies of the main parties (Mrs. Thatcher was the only exception), they have almost always said “imagine if the other lot get in (again)”.
Of course, if you are a politician it’s not very flattering to think that you are in parliament not because of who you are but because of who you are not, but this self-delusion is actually revealed when election time draws near. We are always told to vote for A because B are so awful. Yet as soon as the election is passed, they return to the “we have the confidence of the people” mentality.
Mr. Mullin went on to blame the media (seemingly unaware that the public hold journalists in almost as low esteem as they do politicians). He then made a most revealing statement: “It’s partly a product of the age in which we live, where the more information we have, the less well-educated we appear to be.”
Let that sentence sink in for a moment. He’s saying that the more we know about what politicians do, the more we distrust them – and that we are ignorant for doing so. It’s hard to think of a more arrogant position: “I’m right and if your knowledge of what I’m doing causes you to disagree with me then you are wrong”.
I realise that this is just one interview with just one politician, but I don’t think that he is alone in these sentiments. You see them expressed regularly in interviews (although rarely so forthrightly). I believe that this how the political class really does see the situation. They allow themselves to be deluded by “group think” and mistake the absence of an electable alternative as support for them and their policies.
Of course, you could argue that they feel this way because the system itself has worked that way for so long. That was true – until a certain Mr. Farage came along and blew the system up!
We now have an alternative home for our votes and more and more of us are taking that option.
Photo by Niccolò Caranti