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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  • rockape

    Nasty politics hasnt worked too well for Labour in NZ. I would say that its one of Nationals assetts that they are seen as rising above that. They may well be just as bad but are not seen as such. I do think focus is important and I think thats were National go wrong re getting elected. They are focussed on growing and recovering the economy,focussed on health and education, but I am not sure they are focussed on doing EVERYTHING possible to win next year. I dont care if they change the rules around elections, I dont care if they cuddle up to Winston,the Conservatives or the KKK for that matter. I dont care if they have a major lollie scramble just get focussed on winning!

  • Toryboy

    Half a century ago there was a great deal of contempt for what was viewed as an effete, useless, ineffectual, decadent aristocracy and ruling class.

    The British PM Harold MacMillan, and Sir Alec Douglas-Home personified this and in October 1964 were turfed out of office and the Conservative party ‘modernised’.

    It was the same throughout the English speaking world – America where the Goldwater/Reagan axis replaced the Boston/New York establishment; Australia where Menzies and the ‘Melbourne Club’ were held in low regard; and even NZ.

    There was talk about modernisation, about meritocracy, about ‘men of the people’ and things of that nature.

    Whereas once bright boys from low backgrounds were lucky to be admitted to ‘The Club’ within a couple of decades such people were the club.

    Which brings us to today where throughout the English speaking world you have politics and government dominated by an effete, useless, ineffectual, decadent …liberal middle class.

    In Britain politics is entirely – without exception – dominated by Notting Hill smart alecs; in NZ by a liberal cabal in all parties which caters solely to a Ponsonby/Grey Lynn/Wadestown axis and where nobody attempts to upset this group of effete, useless, intellectually bankrupt people.

    Because no party has either policies, or a philosophy which caters to the average person politics is seen in a certain light.

    A large percentage of Britons agree with UKIP – something which surprises the Nick Cleggs and David Camerons of the world.

  • Michael

    No other team sport has you worry more about your own team than the opponents.