As I start this blog, I’m a bit worried it’ll turn into a rant. I try my best to be balanced but I feel a bit irritable with what I hear on the news at the moment. After all, we are in the middle of a banking crisis of spectacular proportions.
There’s a song by a little known Manchester band, the Sun and the Moon. In their song, A Matter of Conscience, Mark Burgess sings, "I follow no-one, I lead myself."
This lyric has a double edge – or, at least two ways to understand it. On one hand, I don't like its individualistic tone. I think individualism is a bit of a myth. It’s a state of mind and too easily exaggerated and manipulated. On the other hand, the lyrics perfectly articulate how I feel about politics. Humans are social animals but this can lead to a herd-like mentality. And herds unfortunately need leaders.
I'm sick of leaders. Up until recently, I worked for an organisation that was led by a man who fitted perfectly the clinical diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Down to a tea. I emailed the clinical criteria to some colleagues (without revealing what the list related to) and asked what I was describing. Everybody, without exception, assumed I was describing the Chief Exec. I dare say this helped get him where he was but he was a deeply dysfunctional and unpleasant character. I don’t know what his approach was at the started but as time went on, his blurring of the lines between professional advancement and personal gain, I believe, were inevitable. That's what people like that do.
But anyway, politicians are responsible for my current irritation so let me talk about them.
There was a particular 'type' at school. This awkward minority was no good at football, had little interest in pop music or TV and generally had difficulty fitting in. I remember one boy in particular who, for the life of him, couldn't get the hang of a trampoline. It remains one of the funniest video clip memories in my collection.
These pupils were the teenage Times readers. They were outside the mainstream because they excluded themselves. As far as I know, the small number of this type at my school went on to well paid jobs. And on a wider scale, it seems that a subset of this group get involved with mainstream politics.
Take a look at the audience of any political party conference. The seats are full of 'em. And let's face it, they're an odd bunch. This unappealing shower, this collection of misfits, is the crop from which our professional politicians are picked.
Watch the news to see the daily round of political photo-opportunities. This is where these nerd-do-wells 'mix' with us, the plebs, to make themselves look accessible. They go to schools and kick footballs, they go to amusement parks and ride on the log flume, they go to retirement homes and drink tea with the geriatrics.
Just watch the discomfort on their faces. Marvel at their awkward attempts to smile. Being part of the population is as unnatural to a politician as trampolining was to my former schoolmate.
To make things worse, they're followed by an entourage of national media. Like a hideous food chain, these useless people churn out statistics and vacuous statements every single day. Our equally unappealing media swallow what they can before regurgitating it for their readers. Everyone, from the be-suited commuters to the hard-hatted labourers take it in – and it's little but propaganda, lies and emptiness.
In the current banking crisis, it's been interesting to see the laissez faire Tories squirm as an irresponsible free market leads us into recession. Their awful party, funded by big business as it always has been, defines itself on reducing state intervention. On the government's side, I've heard Gordon Brown (the Prime Minister, for goodness sake) spin his record in office by stating that interest rates ran to 15% under the Tories. He is referring to Black Wednesday in 1992 when the incompetent Tories upped interest rates to 15% for about three hours. Brown using this as indicative of the period is plainly misleading.
Here they are – the leaders of the world – absolutely powerless in the face of a failing system. They have no choice but to spend an unprecedented amount of tax payers’ money to prevent complete collapse of, and let’s call a spade a spade, capitalism. Imagine the hospitals, schools, sports centres, immunisation programmes and international aid this could provide.
I don't understand why we need these leaders. I don't understand why they have any credibility. I don't understand why we listen to them and I don't understand why the media and electorate don't make them properly accountable. Tony Blair now has a very, very lucrative career as an ex-world leader. He can choose whatever job he likes. He was recently on Jon Stewart's Daily Show, laughing and joking about his time in office and his relationship with George W. Bush. This will seem like a strong statement but whenever I see Tony Blair, I see a murderer. I hold him (and lots of others) personally responsible for the death of thousands of innocent people in Iraq.
Before you think, "Well, we vote for them," remember, not all of us do. In the last UK general election, our 'democracy' made it impossible to vote for a viable party that was against the war in Iraq. In the next election, it will be impossible to vote for a party that (for example) offers an alternative to the market economy.
As far as I understood, the Nazis were never particularly popular in Berlin. They didn't get a big share of the vote and anti-Nazi demonstrations took place during the Second World War. The majority of Berliners probably wanted peace. Instead they were drawn into the machinery of the Third Reich and torn to shreds. At the end of the war, they suffered the wrath of an avenging Red Army, the bitterness of a defeated Führer and they watched their city burn. Then, before their lives were rebuilt they were dragged into a new war, the Cold War. Alongside the unimaginable horrors of the Second World War, I also reserve some sadness for the ordinary people and the floating voters. There may've been many who voted for the Nazis, they may even have heard rumours about what was happening to the Jews, but who could imagine what their leaders were really getting them into?
There's a chant that's commonly heard in protests around the world, "Not in my name." I voted Labour in 1997 and 2001 - does that mean I supported Blair's decision to go to war? Absolutely not.
I think it was Harold Wilson who said of all his years in government, the best thing he did was to introduce Cat’s Eyes onto Britain’s roads. A simple safety measure – maybe. A dull domestic issue – maybe. Newsworthy – probably not.
To say we all have the same simple needs (peace, food and shelter) our politicians prefer to quibble and bicker. They play word games with each other and the press. They spar with each other and share a drink in the bar afterwards. They tell us that coming out to vote is how we can have our say in a democracy. Instead, we are helping to perpetuate a corrupt system.
Nelson Mandela showed that some leaders get it right. Mandela put aside his personal grievances and presided over a process of healing - truth and reconciliation. There may be many hard working politicians who want to make a positive difference – they may even be the majority – but far too often, they slip into advancing their own interests. They get used to seeing the world behind smoked-glass, bullet-proof, chaffeur-driven, publicly-funded vehicles and forget, as we all do, that we need politicians to act as our servants, not our leaders.
Hmmmm. Upon reading the above, I think I was right. It did turn into a rant.