Mad, swivel-eyed loons deserve defending

Mad, swivel-eyed loons deserve defending

by Mr Eugenides
article from Saturday 18, May, 2013

TODAY'S Telegraph splashes with the news that one of David Cameron’s “closest allies” has attacked Conservative Party members as, quote, “mad, swivel-eyed loons”. Over on Twitter – which, for the blissfully uninitiated, is a social network on which everyone hates everyone else – the consensus seems to be that the unnamed slur-merchant is Michael Gove, though there were earnest exchanges in the small hours of Saturday morning as to whether someone from Aberdeen would ever use the word “loon” in a context which the Telegraph could possibly understand. (The discussion ended at around 2am with everyone calling everyone else Nazis, and then retiring to bed.)

On one level – the level at which most political journalism in this country operates, i.e. the lowest one – this is clearly bad news for Mr Cameron, and The Unnamed “Senior Conservative” Who May Or May Not Be Michael Gove, and who may or may not still be a senior Conservative this time next week. But if we take a step back from the process story and focus on the meat of what TUSCWMOMNBMG actually said, it doesn’t take long for us to conclude that he is unequivocally right on the merits. Most Conservative Party activists, indeed most active members of most political parties, are swivel-eyed loons; and a good thing, too.

Now, of course, the mere fact that you are reading this blog post means that there is a pretty reasonable chance that you yourself are a political activist of some description. You may be somewhat offended by my lazy generalisations and be minded to tear up your subscription, or whatever one does to signal disapproval of posts on websites nowadays (rip out your Ethernet cable? pee in the USB port?).

But rest assured, I don’t mean it that way. I mean, yes, I think you probably are a nutjob, and your eyes may well swivel somewhat in their sockets when you hear a name like “Ted Heath”. But I don’t think this is necessarily such a bad thing; though I hate the way your eyes swivel, I will defend to the death their right to do so. Let me try to explain why.

It is a commonplace among commentators of a certain age – such as our editor, who is rapidly approachi- [get on with it – Ed.] – that the biggest change in modern politics is that our politicians no longer believe in anything. It’s a commonplace because by and large, and with the odd exception, it is true. We are governed by dickless managerialists whose major concern is usually to extend their own power and influence and, a distant second at best, to field complaints from the hapless fools that voted for them.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that when confronted with people who actually believe things – people with actual, you know, convictions – our political leaders, even the best of them like Michael Gove, find the culture clash too jarring and go into a kind of shock, the way you might do the first time an old lady in a Phnom Penh market offers you a deep-fried tarantula on a stick. Time and again, the political events that we remember the most vividly are invariably those “Ceaușescu moments” when politicians come into contact with enraged members of the ordinary public, and you can actually watch their faces contort with disbelief as they are faced with the reality of life outside the walnut interiors of their ministerial Jags. From John Prescott’s egging, through Gordon Brown’s encounter with “that awful bigoted woman” (read: typical Labour voter) to George Osborne getting booed at the Paralympics, these are the snippets we’ll remember of them long after their political ‘achievements’, whatever they may be, are dust in the wind.

These moments are as horrifying for politicians as they are entertaining for the rest of us, and for that alone they would be worth the price of admission. But activists too, in their more insidious way, serve as a necessary corrective to the post-ideological, focus-group-fellating weathervanes that masquerade as political leaders these days. Party memberships may piss the hell out of ministers, but that’s what they are there for. If it wasn’t for their more lunatic supporters, after all, Gordon Brown would have flogged Buckingham Palace to the Chinese by now and the Black Watch would be patrolling downtown Teheran.

It is hardly surprising that in an era when political parties are mere husks of the great national movements they once were, hollowed out by decades of contempt and neglect from on high, those who remain are the diehards, the fanatics, the obsessed and, occasionally, the insane. But since they are the only thing keeping our political parties from slipping their moorings altogether and floating free of any sort of anchoring in principle, beliefs or political creed, their stubborn and persistent existence – however grotesque and incomprehensible to the rest of us – is still on balance a good thing. If that means that occasionally we have to deal with swarms of hysterical cybernats or put up with the Fawltyesque ramblings of retired colonels, well, at least there is someone out there who still believes in something, however gibberingly daft it may be.

That’s not to say that politicians have no uses at all; after all, if it weren’t for them, the fuckwits and loons might actually get to make decisions about stuff that matters, and then we’d really all be screwed. Anyone who reckons, for example, that we would be better off with the NUT running our schools than Michael Gove has clearly not been paying attention. (Gove is today being attacked by union leaders as a “fanatical personal trainer" who urges schools to “jump higher and run faster”, which misses the rather basic point that urging people to jump higher and run faster is the mark of a successful personal trainer, since it typically results in people being able, over time, to run faster and jump higher, which is the whole fucking point of hiring a personal trainer in the first place. You’d think a teacher, of all people, would grasp this.)

So there they are, politicians and their unhinged supporters, locked in a death embrace, like two Mesozoic mosquitoes caught fucking in amber. The activists are there to keep the politicians honest, or whatever the Westminster equivalent of our English word ‘honest’ is; the politicians are there as a cordon sanitaire to protect us from the malcontents and crazies that constitute the bulk of their membership. No sensible person wants any of them, yet here they all are, so we might as well make the best of it. Loons are a necessary evil and the sooner Michael Gove – or whoever it may have been – learns to shut up and listen to what they are telling him, the sooner we might persuade them to shut up and let their leaders run the country.

 

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