Dear Politics (a rant)

Nick Harkaway
Oct 6, 2014 · 6 min read

Dear Politics,

I’ve given up on you.

I used to love you so much. I spent hours learning your every mood and mode, your history and form. Now you just depress me. You’re empty, meaningless and stupid: a machine for getting nothing done and costing money and lives.

I thought the Liberal Democrats could help. I was so excited when they were polling high before the last election. Then they decided to expend that huge bump on an experiment to prove coalition government could be made to work. In pursuing that completely unexciting agenda, they ended up proud enablers of the latest toxic Tory throwbacks. They put their weight behind illiberal laws, stood mute on reactionary policies, toed the line. To prove what? That everyone hates the tagalong? We didn’t vote for the party of facilitation. We voted for the party that was making waves, that was going to change the dynamic of Westminster, and that was what they threw away.

And then there’s Labour. Oh, Labour. To choose between David and Ed — the first a handsome devil with a lovely smile, the spitting image of another bold charmer in whose government he served; the second less polished and therefore more trustworthy, but by the same token uninspiring, at least to me. This is the party you vote for because you loathe David Cameron and his neckless, feckless Etonian cadre so much you don’t care that you’re giving yourself to someone every bit as feckless but pulling in a fractionally different direction, in hock to fractionally different versions of the same polluting industries, the same bankers and transnationals, the same braying tribal drivel.

Which brings us to David Cameron, and the moaning, thrashing zombies of his party and the weird little cannibalistic homonculus growing from its shoulder that goes by the acronym UKIP. There was a time when Conservatism embraced an uncompromising allegiance to personal liberty, to the rule of law. Now, just writing that, I actually have to explain what it means: it means that no one, whether they are the driver of a rag and bone cart or a senior officer in our intelligence service, may break the law with impunity. It means that the executive branch of government obeys the constraints imposed upon it by treaty, by law, by precedent, and does not seek to weasel out from under. It means that laws are made with the intention of being imporus and impenetrable, not looped to create backwaters of tax avoidance and torture. It means that law applies to government, and that justice is available to all, and the process of justice is public and can be seen to be done. Spying on citizens, stripping them of their rights, obfuscating crimes committed by allies or by our own agents — no one should have the gall to do these things and stand before Parliament, let alone before a good Conservative local party. The mere suggestion of such horrors should see a candidate driven out of Kent or Sussex with switches made from thorns. Today’s Conservative party and its dependent sack of anti-EU nonsense have no conviction that doesn’t profit Russian oligarchs, American food giants, or Canadian pharmaceutical companies. They bleat about immigration and then open our borders to the grimmest sinners in the world.

Note to the glorious leader: You’re not in trouble because you’re a high Tory, Dave. You’re in trouble because you’re an empty shirt.

Where did all this come from? This pointless thrashing? Why am I inflicting it on you? Because this party conference season has yielded nothing but risible nonsense from a parade of clowns. Chris Grayling and Theresa May on the Human Rights Act and the ECHR: is the need to be able to move traveller convoys off vacant lots so profound that we will withdraw from a treaty authored by Britain in the image of our convictions? Nick Clegg telling his crew to savage the Tories on tax after spending four years facilitating their evisceration of the NHS and education. Ed Miliband’s failure to engage with the deficit — whether a slip or an omission hardly matters, it’s like not mentioning the sea in a debate about fishing.

All my interests are notionally represented. I’m a white, middle aged, married middle class male with kids. I couldn’t be disenfranchised if I tried. But there is no one speaking to what I believe, no one offering anything in this soup of stupidity, imbecile headline-grabbing and brattish petulance that lifts my heart. On this showing, whoever wins next year will be as vacuous and ineffectual as any government we’ve ever seen. Victory will be expressed in negatives, if at all: the NHS didn’t get destroyed; the education system didn’t get wrecked; we didn’t leave Europe; we didn’t frack; we didn’t kill welfare or penalise the poor.

I don’t want someone to light a great revolutionary bonfire. I’m not Russell Brand or Emma Thompson, marvelous though they both are. Perhaps I’m a bit petty: I just want enough political heat to warm my hands, enough to feel that someone sensible is doing something ordinary to fix what is broken. It’s not as if there’s a paucity of problems to tackle.

Revolutions come in two stages: the bit where everything gets smashed and the bit where you have to build it again. The first is great fun, the second is so very hard. I don’t really look around — in the aftermath of a referendum on Scottish Independence that has let the English devolutionary genie out of its radioactive bottle, in a country whose parties propose at the same time to spy on its citizens and deny them access to the courts to save money, in a nuclear nation that cannot afford healthcare, in a democracy where mineral rights to an entire region are still given over to the personal maintenance of the heir to the throne, in a nation of laws which will shortly begin the process of taking away rights, where women still get hounded for having opinions, where charities should stay out of politics and “stick to knitting” — and see much that isn’t broken, and if I did I’d still worry about who’ll get hit by all the falling masonry. It’s how I feel about private schools: they probably shouldn’t exist. Fine. Which generation of students shall we sacrifice to the inevitably catastrophic mess of their abolition and the creation of an all-state education sector? It’s an argument that applies to many things, and it’s true in all of them, wretched in all of them.

Bollocks to the revolution. I don’t give a damn for speeches any more. I’m too tired, too mistrustful. Professional politicians will say anything, and they’re always careful to leave themselves room to turn around and do the other. So bollocks to the revolution, to the chaos it brings and the vileness that always follows, to the slow and painstaking reconstruction of the same age-old mistakes from the rubble.

I want a politics that doesn’t need to pretend to be holy or perfect or infallible. I want a politics that gets on with it. Isn’t that the most British virtue? We’re supposed to be a “nation of shopkeepers”. Shopkeepers come to work, do the job. They take stock, they see what needs doing the next day, and they get up and do that.

I want politics in a greengrocer’s apron, showing up to work. I don’t want flourish or anger or debates over foxhunting or the Alternative Vote or MPs’ pay. I. Do. Not. Care.

Show up.

Take stock.

Do the bloody job.

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Things which are not fiction, about stuff which is not fictional.

    Nick Harkaway

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    Essays and non-fiction

    Things which are not fiction, about stuff which is not fictional.

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