Charles De Gaulle had his faults, but he was a man who could coin a memorable phrase when he put in a bit of effort. “I have come to the conclusion”, he said, “that politics is too serious a matter to be left to politicians” It might have been more flippant than profound, but he might have had a point.
Politics is the gift that keeps on giving. Of all of mankind’s preoccupations, there could be few that exist in the realm between comedy and tragedy quite like politics does.
Here in the United Kingdom, the story of a disgraced adviser has turned the public so firmly against politicians that it’s hard not to feel a bit of sympathy for them.
The scandal was set in motion when an advisor to Gordon Brown sent emails to a political blogger. These emails suggested setting up a website to smear their political rivals with invented and quite vicious claims to paint them as morally unfit to lead the country.
The emails found their way to another political blogger who published them on his site and triggered what is turning out to be the biggest scandal of the year. The advisor resigned, but the damage has been done.
The public fury has been unrelenting and the Labour Party look set to be trounced at next year’s general elections. In the same way that the financial crisis led people to herald the moral bankruptcy of capitalism, so this scandal has consolidated the public’s view of politics as a viper’s pit.
Politics has officially become evil in the eyes of the public. Now evidently the issue is a serious one at heart. Setting out to spread falsehoods about your opponents is a serious affair. Certainly it epitomises the venal aspects of politics.
In the attention-deficit facebook-obsessed world we live in, a shadowy adviser plotting such shenanigans certainly appeals to our sense of drama and moral outrage at a very basic level. That said, there was a moment of almost exquisite comedy at the heart of it all.
After dragging his feet for a few days, Gordon Brown eventually roused himself to apologize to everyone for the actions of his advisor. However, it was the nature of his apology that injected the priceless gift of comedy to the proceedings.
“I have taken full responsibility for what happened, which is why the person who was responsible had to go” he said.
It brought some Zen-like questions to the front of my mind: if you are take full responsibility and then fire someone else for being responsible, just who is actually responsible here?Maybe I’m missing something.
Certainly, things have not been helped by the continuing outrage over the dodgy allowance systems for Members of Parliament. The system is remarkably generous to MP’s and allows them to claim their actual homes as a second home.
So what MP’s do- and you have to admit there is a touch of sly genius in this arrangement- is to claim a relative’s home as their first home and their actual home as a second home which enables them to claim money for it.
If that sounds ridiculous and bizarre, that’s because it is. The allowance was initially supposed to help MP’s who live far away from Parliament, but today everyone claims it with a bit of creative if ethically dubious reasoning.
Also walking this thin line between tragedy and comedy is the even more surreal story involving Ugandan MP’s and the African Leadership Institute.
The Institute compiled what The New Vision drily referred to as a ‘performance scorecard’ which was supposed to be some kind of report on the effectiveness of Parliament.
The trouble started when the Institute announced that it would release the report to the public. Furious MP’s booed and heckled in Parliament, insisted that the report should not be made public and many actually stormed out. It took an NRM MP to display the astonishing lack of self-awareness that summed up the charade.
“What is this research intended to achieve if it is not to arm our opponents?” was the question asked by a certain Beatrice Rwakimari.
Again I may be missing something here, but surely the research was quite obviously intended to be an assessment of Parliament’s performance?
Evidently the MP’s were aware of this so the sudden outrage was amusing. Somewhere between compiling the report and releasing it to the public, it suddenly became very objectionable.
Further comic material was soon forthcoming “If you want to help us, empower the voters” said Mrs. Rwakimari. It was a slice of logical nonsense straight out of Alice in Wonderland.
Politics inhabits that strange place where cold-hard reality becomes farce. It shows the way human beings can transform everything into real-life theatre.
Somewhere in that place, reality becomes distorted and the results can be immensely puzzling for those of us not in that bubble.