Last night I watched the second half of Question Time and then This Week. Midway through this week I began to realise how little political to-ing and fro-ing means to me any longer. I tweeted that maybe I was seeing politics and politicians in a similar way to the general public for the first time. I suppose it’s been a process that has been going on for two years, ever since I decided to abandon any future attempts to get into Parliament.
I think doing my LBC show has also been an influence. Watching Question Time I wanted to throw something at the screen. And it wasn’t just Ben Bradshaw’s constant hypocrisy that got me going. The journalist, Angela Epstein, who I can’t say had ever come across my radar before, was just vacuous in the extreme. Nothing worth saying at all. Ian Hislop did his usual playing to the audience, Anna Soubry was just plain irritating, constantly appearing to talk down to the audience without actually meaning to, and Ming Campbell did his best to be above the fray but it didn’t quite work. But the reason this programme has gone down hill is that its host, David Dimbleby seems increasingly to think the programme is all about him. It isn’t. And his constant attempts to mirror a tabloid journalist and paint all politicians in a negative light are becoming just plain tiresome.
This Week wasn’t much better. Alan Johnson spent the whole programme trying to avoid taking a position on anything. He ought to be reminded that’s what he’s there to do. Portillo sat there loftily, talking down to us and subliminally assuring us that he knows best about everything. Even when his powers of prediction were exposed as risible by Andrew Neil, he didn’t even have the good grace to admit he had been totally wrong. He just sneered at Cameron, as he usually does. Neil Hamilton’s film was risible and the ensuing debate with Shirley Williams was mind numbing.
Laura Kuenssberg was the only bright spot in 45 minutes of utter tedium. At the end of it, I just thought to myself that maybe the reason I grew so irritated by both programmes was because I just don’t appreciate politics in the way that I used to. Maybe others in the Westminster Village still think these programmes rule the political roost and are captivated by them. I no longer am. But it’s not just them. I watch PMQs and I find the level of debate, if you can call it that, embarrassing. I watch political interviews with cabinet and shadow cabinet ministers and despair of the vacuity of the questions and answers. Perhaps I now understand what most voters think of the same things.
It’s also the standard of political journalism and comment that turns me off. Take this morning’s comments about the fact that David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson spent some of last night in a Swiss pizza restaurant. Here’s the Mirror’s James Lyons…
And there were plenty more like that. Are people seriously saying that politicians should hide themselves away in their hotel rooms? I suppose James Lyons would have then made a fuss about the room service bill. Just imagine if they had been out in a posh Davos restaurant.
Our public life is being corrupted by a permanent sneer and cynical outlook by those who report on it. Yes, to some extent it’s the fault of those who serve in public life. The trouble is that the way politics is now reported in the print and broadcast media, it’s a wonder anyone wants to go into it. And this is why increasingly we will get a political class made up of geeks and obsessives. Normal people, people who actually want to do good, will turn their efforts elsewhere, and who can blame them?
I look at some of my friends who got elected in 2010 and wonder what’s happened to them. Several of them are so far up their own arses that they don’t even bother to reply to text messages any longer. Now that one or two have becomes ministers they’re so very important (at least in their own eyes) that they forget about those who helped them get there.
I remarked to someone a few weeks ago that in 25 years of being involved in politics, I could probably count on the fingers of two hands the number of real friends I have made in the political arena. That perhaps says just as much about me as it does others, but It just shows how transient political relationships can be. People befriend you when they think you can be useful to them. As soon as you can’t, they drop you like a stone. Perhaps I have done it myself. I’d like to think not, but I can’t look myself in the mirror and say it categorically hasn’t happened.
Politics is like a drug. It’s very difficult to pull yourself away from something which is capable of giving you the equivalent of a massive adrenaline rush. I suspect I will never lose an interest in politics. But I know now that I am falling out of love with it.