Jonathan Jones, the Guardian’s art critic, dipped his toe into politics this past week with an article entitled, “The Joey Essex and Nick Clegg ‘selfie’ portrays a political system in crisis” Now I like Jonathan’s articles on the art world and it feels slightly mean to have a go at his foray into political writing, but the problem is the piece is very representative of a type of political article that has done the rounds since the 2009 expenses scandal (at least, I’ve pinpointed that as being the incident that birthed this sort of thing): the “our political system is in crisis” trope.
Partly, Jones’ article is of another subset of political writing, this one definitely coming to fruition post-Tory/Lib coalition, that of the “let’s bash Clegg under the guise of something meaningful to say about society at large”. However, I waded through all of that (Jones really goes for it, by the way. He indulges in the classic Left thing of stating that after May Clegg will become completely forgotten, while insinuating the mutually exclusive idea that he’ll never be forgiven for the Coalition), in order to get to the crux of his argument.
“British politics has lost the ability to communicate with voters. To make voters care. That is what we see in this picture. Would Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair ever have posed with Joey Essex for a selfie, or indulged his daft questions? Of course not, because they both were able, at their best, to talk directly with real people.”
This is, I’m sorry to say Jonathan, unadulterated horseshit. Every bit of it. First, this nostalgia for “conviction politicians”, as if we used to have these amazing specimens running the country and now we’re reduced to barely sentient thugs holding power. This is the kind of nostalgia that the Left should hang its head in shame for indulging in (particularly as it involves glorifying the memory of Thatcher, but I digress). Secondly, the idea that politicians these days are completely out of touch with “ordinary people”, a bon mot that has become accepted wisdom but falls apart on any analysis.
Let’s examine the Clegg/Essex incident Jones takes as his example of the world falling apart: politicians only do these kinds of photo ops because they work. If they stopped doing the trick, they would cease. It’s like when people say, “I wish politicians would stop all of that parroting of messaging, sounding like robots. I wish they would just speak like normal people,” only when they do speak like normal people, the public crucifies them. On the other hand, when politicians parrot messaging, the messaging always gets through. In other words, it’s your own bloody fault the politicians all sound like automated messaging regurgitators, I’m afraid to say, people. The British public’s attitude is very clear: while they say the opposite, in practice what they want is strict message control and will punish any shoot of honesty or normalcy that peaks through. It happens every time. They like bullshit “honesty”, pub jocularity posing as reality a la Farage at his height. But even when Farage has been genuinely honest in public, he has been punished mercilessly (like when he admitted in the first debate with Clegg that politics is tiring and was roundly heckled).
Finally, Jonathan gives us this to chew on:
“Instead they pose with Joey Essex, looking like they’re in hell, as they face the awful gulf that has opened up between Westminster and the people, as the voters prepare to pulp parliament into a grey sludge of powerless mediocrity.”
If only. The truth is, no one is about to be pulped, except possibly Farage and Sturgeon after they have not managed party expectations very well. Either David Cameron or Ed Miliband will be sat in Number 10 at the end of May, not feeling very pulped by the public at all, thank you very much. And journalists will still be telling us that we are in the midst of a crisis as politics continues, business as usual, and the public that is supposedly on the verge of revolt goes on with their lives, business as usual.
Pete B says
Excellent article. There’s perhaps another one waiting to be written “the reason I’m apathetic is that all politicians and parties are the same – at least that’s what I’ve been told”.
Iain Sharpe says
The Jonathan Jones article is both fatuous and unhistorical. I can remember ‘argaret Thatcher posing for pictures with Kevin Keegan and inciting Jimmy Savile for Christmas and Chequers. And Tony Blair courting the Cool Britannia thing with Noel Gallagher at Downing Street. Or even Neil Kinnock appearing in a Tracey Ullman video.
Iain Sharpe says
Sorry the hazards of posting on a tablet keyboard. Clearly I meant ‘Margaret’ ‘inviting Jimmy Savile for Christmas at Chequers’.
I’d say that British Politics is not “in crisis” and that British Politicians have not lost the ability to communicate with the electorate, rather that the Politicians themselves are hitting a sort of crisis in that the Public have figured them out. The average voter is not a kind of “Joey Essex” character, thinking it’s Liberal DemoCATs and the such like, but politicians have been telling themselves that that is the intellectual level of the general public. They are starting to realise that they are not above reproach in Westminster, as you say the expenses scandal started that, and that they have to be more representative of the people instead of their benefactors or they will be out of a job; no matter how much corporate backing they receive. The smaller parties are embracing this idea and, unless they want to be left behind, the major parties need to follow suit.