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Last week I was invited to attend a “pre-election debate” between four UK spin doctors turned PR snake oil merchants. As events go, this was essentially the networking equivalent of Mos Eisley spaceport – a wretched hive of scum, villainy, and backhanded political point-scoring.
In the red corner you had Sir Chris Powell, a Blairite capitalist who clearly couldn’t quite bring himself to vote Tory after making his first million. Think Tony Benn, if Tony Benn had traded in his union membership for a million dollar advertising agency. Powell was also supported by Matt Carter, a former Labour Party Secretary turned walking Excel spreadsheet.
“Never before have I seen such a blatant middle finger to the sheer concept of democracy”
In the blue corner was PRCA chairman, and conservative stereotype, Francis Ingham. Sat in his tailored blue suit and dripping in mason-esk gold jewellery, Ingham couldn’t help but give off that slightly otherworldly vibe that comes so naturally to old-school Tory boys. There’s just something inherently inhuman about them; as if at any minute they could peel their skin off to reveal some sort of sea-based arachnid underneath. Personally I wasn’t sure if Ingham was planning on debating with the other panelists, or merely waiting for the right moment to lay his eggs inside their eyes.
Finally, in the slightly jaundiced yellow corner, was Ian Wright, former Communications Director at Diageo drinks and long-term Lib Dem political advisor. Wright was everything you would expect from a modern day Liberal Democrat, a crumpled man in a crumpled suit who has clearly grown accustomed to the sweet smell of third place. In short, he was the political equivalent of an ‘I took part in the school sports day’ sticker.
While it’s all too easy to critique their shabby and stereotypical exteriors, it’s fair to say that these were all extremely smart and – more surprisingly – extremely honest individuals. If anything, there were times when they were a bit too honest.
In the past, I’ve always been a big believer that politicians could be so much more popular if they only told the truth. If they acted with a bit of self-deprecation and relied less on prepared statements and cringeworthy ‘zingers’, they might actually stand a chance of coming across as genuine human beings. Oh how wrong I was.
As I found out at last week’s event, all that scripting and preparation is actually there to stop the real life politicians from showing through. It’s there to act as a smokescreen for all the cynicism, political determinism, and the apparently prevalent view that the world is beyond any sort of lasting fundamental change. While all four panelists talked very openly about their political opinions, those opinions didn’t seem to stretch beyond what would help their ‘side’ to win the election. The idea that any sort of lasting changes could – or even should – be made was completely out of the question.
To these people, politics is not about working out what’s best for the country through a process of information gathering and debate; it’s about sticking with your chosen party to the death, regardless of right or wrong. As one example, consider the comments of Tory billboard Francis Ingham. When questioned on what can be done to encourage young people to vote, his jocular (yet brutally honest) answer was that he would discourage young people from voting, as they wouldn’t vote Conservative.
Never before have I seen such a blatant middle finger to the sheer concept of democracy. The level of tired, self-centred cynicism involved in just that one statement was enough to make me never vote for a political party again.
And it wasn’t just Ingham, all of the panelists had a similar level of futile determinism when it came to their political allegiances. To them, politics is merely a game to be won or lost. A tug of war between two equally infallible sides.
But politics isn’t a game. We now live in a country of massive wealth divides, unstable economic conditions, starvation and unemployment, tax dodging and expense scandals, illegal resource wars and subsidised invasions, government spying, rising homelessness, and an economic system in which corporations can privatise their gains while nationalising their loses. And yet, as a result of this “win/lose” mentality, few of these things even seem to register on the political radar. They are considered statistics to be reduced, or emotional rhetoric to be utilised. The fact that these statistics represent the lives of real people doesn’t merit consideration. They are merely numbers to be fed in and out of the campaign machine, winning hearts and minds, and helping “our side” to win the election.