Politics isn’t tiddly-winks or a pillow fight at a sleepover

Some people didn’t like my statement to Rachel Smalley on The now defunct Nation programme that politics is a “dirty, disgusting, despicable people playing a dirty, disgusting, despicable game”.

The ones who didn’t like that truthful statement in particular seem to be from the left, and have this belief that politics is some sort of intellectual exercise.

They would never have been beaten up by union thugs after a public meeting, or forcibly ejected by those same thugs from a meeting for heckling in the time honoured tradition of politics.

They will also likely not have had a war with their own party, or the opposition.

Don’t get me wrong, politics is the best game in town and mostly because there are no rules. Where those sooks whining about my statement prefer pillow fights I prefer knife fights…and I’ll trot along with a shotgun. Politics is about winning not cuddles or tiddly winks.

Now you know where I stand you will better appreciate my dismay at reading this:

Nick Clegg is sad at the moment. Not because of his party’s fortunes, but because of the low regard that so many young people have for democracy. He blames it on MPs shouting, telling the BBC’s Free Speech programme: “I long for a day when politics is actually done in our language in Westminster, which is a normal language, rather than this archaic, shouty, 19th-century language.”

He could have been talking about this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions, where MPs roared and jeered as they usually do. Mr Clegg has never much liked this spectacle, and others agree with him: John Bercow, the Speaker, has a near-weekly habit of scolding Honourable Members for putting off voters with their ebullience. 

It is true that PMQs is rarely edifying. But this is not because MPs do their best to imitate the sort of sledging more usually seen on a cricket outfield in Australia. It’s because when they do stand up to speak, so many of them are not adversarial or aggressive enough.

This week, there were two prime examples of backbench questions that showed the real problem with PMQs. Conservative Jackie Doyle-Price asked pointedly about Unite’s “bully-boy tactics”. Her colleague Steve Brine linked the email from Ed Miliband’s office describing Ed Balls as a “nightmare” to the scandal at the Co-operative Bank.

Perhaps both MPs had woken up in an especially tribal mood, or perhaps, like so many of their colleagues, they had succumbed to the entreaties of the party’s whips, who are always pressing backbenchers to ask questions that are helpful to Mr Cameron.

This is all leading up to a weapons grade sook about the nastiness of politics.

As for the suggestion that the rowdiness in the Commons is somehow off-putting, consider the alternative to a passionate democracy. It would be far worse if MPs were indifferent or even deferential. Others argue that shouting and jeering puts off women, but a fact-finding mission to an all-girls’ school would show them that when left to their own devices, the females of the species are as incapable of getting along peacefully as the males.

It’s not just how politicians behave, though. The Commons chamber, where parties shout across the gangway, is one of the best bits of our democracy: it encourages a battle of ideas. Faced with calls for a circular chamber in 1943, as MPs considered how to rebuild a bombed House, Winston Churchill said: “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us,” adding that he had seen “many earnest and ardent parliaments destroyed by the group system”.

Backbenchers can keep our Parliament earnest and ardent, too, if only they resist the allure of the whips.

Politics is a brutal business, best left to brutes. It is certainly never going to be a game of tiddlywinks, mainly because people like me exist to come along and tip up the playing board for pure petulant pleasure.


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

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