It is not hard to feel more than a little depressed about the current state of politics – or the current state of politicians. Last night I was reflecting about the possibility of Donald Trump becoming president of the United States of America, of Jeremy Corbyn being the only electoral option open in regards to the prime minister of the UK not being a Tory post-2020, of Jess Phillips and the whole “I thought I could be a politician and a human being, boy was I wrong” saga and thought: how the hell did we get here? But I did not need to reflect long on the answer.
Let’s take an easy example: David Miliband. Lots of people are hoping he makes a return to British politics sometime soon, either to save the Labour Party or if that’s impossible, progressive politics in the UK via some other means. But let us think a little about his situation as it stands. David Miliband currently makes about 600 thousand dollars a year doing a dream job. He lives in Manhattan, in what I can only imagine is some sort of luxury flat. He rubs shoulders with the international elite and occasionally hangs out with George Clooney. I’d be willing to bet that no one ever puts dog poo through his mail flap. Can you imagine, given all this, David turning around one day, slapping his forehead and thinking, “Jesus, instead of having this fairy tale life in New York I could be having mud slinging matches in the press with Len McCluskey and doing mind numbing surgeries in South Shields, all on the hope that I might possibly be prime minister of Great Britain someday so long as my inimitable gang of total fuck ups in my own party don’t completely manage to tosh it up for me (which they almost certain would)! Best get on the next plane across the Atlantic!” Seriously, why would he do that?
Better yet, if he were to do just that, it would unquestionably be out some sense of duty to British politics – and yet it would be reported in the press in the exact opposite way, as if Miliband giving up flipping great wads of cash and a comfortable lifestyle to butt heads with a pool of vicious Trots was the ultimate act of hubris.
We’re all used to the almost de rigueur question on QT – some sort of variant on “why are all politicians liars?”. The answers given by the panelists are always esoteric, so here’s a straight answer: because that’s the monster we, the public, have created. Coming back to Jess Phillips for a moment – her recent travails beautifully demonstrate the problem I’m trying to illustrate. If you try and be human, to simply answer questions put to you honestly and with intellectual rigor, you get lambasted. And it isn’t the fault of the newspapers or the media in general. They only put those stories out because we respond so positively to them. Thus we end up with politicians that sound like robots via natural selection; everyone else either gives up or falls into line.
I conclude by saying this: I don’t really understand why anyone would want to be an MP. Compared to other jobs available for bright, hardworking people in Westminster and Britain’s lively civil society sector, that of being an MP fares quite badly. It’s relatively poorly paid, at least when you compare it to the salaries available in the same field, and for much more work than you’d be expected to do in a charity or an NGO. No matter what you do, you will be thrown into a bin labelled “politician – just like all the rest”. So what’s the solution? We could start trying to encourage better behaviour from our elected officials, instead of rejoicing in their worst efforts. But I’m not expecting that to happen anytime soon.