Sometimes a casual conversation gives unexpected cause for reflection. The other day I was chairing a radio discussion with a recently elected MP and a former Conservative cabinet minister. While we were waiting to record I asked the MP how she was finding her new job, a polite banality before the taped discussion. She replied that the hardest part was coping with the disdain of the public, in contrast to her previous job working as a senior official in local government.You mean, the public had no disdain for her then?
I find that rather hard to believe….
The former cabinet minister now in the Lords nodded sympathetically. I asked him when he thought that disdain had become more fully realised, the point when even a passing respect had ceased to be part of the complicated range of emotions in relation to MPs. He suggested the late 1980s, without quite being able to specify why.He must have some idea. Why won’t he say?
The MP cited the televising of Parliament as a great demystifying moment, made worse by the ritualistic, gladiatorial cheering and jeering that punctuates exchanges in the Commons.Well, that didn’t help, I’m sure. But to the average man on the street, it can’t have been a turning point.
What is striking was that all three of us accepted without a moment's hesitation that what the MP had said was not remotely strange or unusual.‘Everyone hates you, but you don’t care…’
The MP is not alone. I arranged to meet a cabinet minster recently inside Parliament. He said to me as we were walking along one of its ornate corridors "I know I shouldn't, but I still get a buzz to think I am elected to this place." I asked why he should not get such a buzz. "Because out there they think we are self-serving shits."Well, it does seem as though it’s the 99% of self-serving shits that give the rest a bad name, doesn’t it?
Throw into the mix the fashion for a fairly aggressive media culture and it is not surprising we are where we are. It is a dangerous place to be.For whom?
Here comes the difficult bit: part of the fault for this fragile situation lies with those voters who feel indiscriminate loathing. Note the qualification.That’s fine with me.
I can wait until I’ve a reason to loathe a politician. I’m confident I won’t have to wait too long, after all….