What does the mayoral punch-up say about politics?
The small world of politics is greatly reduced by the slovenly slagging off that accompanies an imminent election. The candidates have a short period of time to convince the unconvinced that they are your obvious choice. This involves squaring the circle, so to speak, about what they have done, or said in the past.
You will be asked to swallow much and understand anew actions and words that so far you may have “misinterpreted”. In the good old days you might have a party allegiance to rely on as a natural guide. Therefore voting was a bit like “painting by numbers”. It took little more than to establish the party candidate’s name on the ballot paper and make your mark.
In the London mayoral contest, though, both major candidates are disliked by their party leaders, and the candidates often speak against their respective parties. They may take their party’s name but it would appear that they at times take little else. Is this good for politics?
Certainly the increasing centralisation of parties is not to be welcomed. Centralisation works only for the benefit of the small group at the top. Therefore, the “Ken” and “Boris” factor might work well to undermine the creeping central control – what you might call “the Tescoization” of politics that is happening.
You know, the sameness, the dehumanising of politics that has grown apace. The Ken-Boris election roadshow should be full of fun. But it is full of spite. The two men obviously loath each other in a visceral sort of way. One seen as a conniving backroom political type who has never had a real job in his life; the other an imitation, old-style toffee-nosed snob bathed in privilege and topped off with the gimmickry of uncontrollable hair.
One with the voice patterns of a jocular patrician giving gifts to the poor at Christmas. And the other the whining voice much preferred by Japanese computer manufacturers imitating English.
Both rise and fall by their record. But as is always the case in the role of adversaries, they must pour vitriol-laced commentary on their adversary’s record. No plus must be left standing. No minus left unearthed. And the voter believes or doesn’t believe, leading one to conclude that you just have to go with someone’s anecdotes and hope for the best. It’s a question, in the final analysis, of whose anecdotes you believe.
I would suggest that the record, the finest of yardsticks, gets lost in the vitriol – it gets distorted in the bitter dislike – and that what we may have to consider, if we wish to rescue politics from argy-bargy, finding a referee.
Is there a way of ensuring the record stands for itself? Is there a way of making sure that we all understand what has been done? The greatest guard against distortions of the record for political advantage is our vigilance. Our involvement in the political life of the contested community.
Otherwise, we then have to leave it to the contestants, who take advantage of our distance from the democracy we adhere to but seldom get involved in. They are encouraged by the fact that we only see them every so many years. Remember it is us who give them the latitude to ‘play the goat’ over the record. For our vigilance rarely lasts longer than the contest itself. For democracy, reduced to a four- or five-yearly mark on a piece of paper seldom does us proud.