Friday, July 08, 2011

Call Me Dave and the Melchett Molestation

Not that all politics is basically the same or anything, but I was writing this very piece about an entirely different news story. Funny how all your chickens come home to roost when inevitably they do...

There's a wonderful scene towards the end of The West Wing's final season in which President-elect Santos meets with the favourite to be the new Speaker Of The House. Santos outlines his first legislative priority; reform of the lobbying industry to free Congress from the corrosive effects of special interests. The soon-to-be Speaker's response is simple; "We have a majority and thus the edge in fundraising for the first time in years, I won't just give that away!"

If ever there was proof that psychology is far more important to understanding modern politics than philosophy or political science, it is in this attitude. It's only natural that politicians of all stripes will have their complaints about the nature of the game; everyone feels that way about some aspect of their chosen profession. And yet, when they win the game and have the chance to change it, even the most radical amongst them refuse to challenge the game as it stands, even in the face of their own overwhelming self-interest.

This effect was crucial in the death of the Labour Party; once it had convinced itself that Labour government was good and all other possibilities were fundamentally evil, the important quality for a Labour politician became, not their ideological soundness, but their ability to play the game. That such an attitude resulted in Blair, whose ideological emptiness was crucial to his development as perhaps the ultimate political player of the last half century, should not be too surprising.

The same was very much in evidence during the AV referendum and is an important factor to remember in any future electoral reform campaign. Much of the opposition to AV was based, not on a rational analysis of what Parliament should be and how it should best be composed to achieve that goal, but on the simple premise that first-past-the-post was democracy incarnate. For so many, the fact that the game was what it was meant that the game had to be that way, an attitude that will have to be tackled when the issue comes back round.

And then there is the ghastly ménage à trois that is Cameron, Murdoch and Brooks. The Dirty Digger's skills as a political seducer shouldn't be underestimated, but somehow, a succession of political leaders have failed to realise that his real power is not seduction, but blackmail; any advantage he grants to you comes through destroying your opponent and that power will be unleashed on you just as soon as you cease to be flavour of the month.

How much damage will accrue to each of the protagonists remains to be seen; Dave himself may well be saved by "politicians are all the same" deflecting the attention from his particular case of overindulging in the arslikhan. Still, it can only be good for the country and the coalition if this whole disgraceful affair teaches him the lesson that Lieutenant George got from Captain Blackadder; there's nothing wrong with dancing with the devil if he's the only one who'll bring you, but it is vitally important that you don't let him shag you on the veranda once you're there...

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