So, at last, after what seems like months of posturing, we have a new Prime Minister. Politicians, don’t you just love ‘em? During the last decade of my career I had the dubious pleasure of spending a lot of time with politicians. This was in local government, so their capacity to wreak mayhem and misery was geographically constrained, but it didn’t stop many of them having a damn good try.
To be fair, some of the politicians I had dealings with were capable, decent, well-meaning human beings, regardless of party affiliation. The majority were, however, cut from an altogether different cloth, incompetent, totally lacking in self-awareness and less trustworthy than an alligator with terminal toothache.
Douglas Adams, one of the funniest British writers of the late 20th century, had the measure of politicians. He wrote, in the Restaurant at the End of the Universe:
“The major problem – one of the major problems, for there are several – one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them. To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”
Mark Twain’s masterpiece of pithy observation, written a century earlier, shows that – unsurprisingly, I suppose – the marriage of naked ambition and gross ineptitude is not a modern phenomenon. He wrote:
“Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”
In their separate ways, Adams and Twain highlight democracy’s greatest flaw: the people who get themselves elected to serve us. But to put it another way, aren’t we the fatal weakness? Us, the electorate, we gullible souls who put an ‘X’ next to the name of a person we’ve almost certainly never met and assume that he or she will do right by us? We, who rarely ask the right questions or listen intelligently to the answers when we do.
I’ll leave the final words on this subject to Derbyshire folksinger / songwriter Lester Simpson. The title of his song We Got Fooled Again is a clue to Simpson’s take on the political process, but if there’s any doubt the first two lines tell us all we need to know:
“In the name of progress we believe the lies
And get the same old shite, just different flies”
Couldn’t have put it better myself.