Who would want to join pol­i­tics when it is so riven with nasty fac­tions? Not me

The National - News - - OPINION - GAVIN ESLER Gavin Esler is a jour­nal­ist, author and tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter

Like most jour­nal­ists who spend a lot of time with politi­cians, I like many, ad­mire some and count a few as friends. The ones I ad­mire come from op­pos­ing po­lit­i­cal par­ties but they all work ex­tremely hard, are tol­er­ant, open-minded and un­selfish peo­ple who are in pol­i­tics to make the world bet­ter.

In Bri­tain, pol­i­tics is not gen­er­ally a way to get rich. But one thing has al­ways dis­turbed me about po­lit­i­cal par­ties: why would any­one ac­tu­ally want to join one? The best peo­ple in pol­i­tics work tire­lessly, are grounded in re­al­ity and try their best. But demo­cratic pol­i­tics also at­tracts some very strange, nar­cis­sis­tic and nasty peo­ple.

The British Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May mem­o­rably de­scribed her own Con­ser­va­tive party as “the nasty party”. Nowa­days the British Labour Party ri­vals the Con­ser­va­tives for gold medal nas­ti­ness. Con­se­quently some in the British po­lit­i­cal world have been ex­cited by news in the past few days that rich donors may have found £50 mil­lion (Dh262 mil­lion) to back a new po­lit­i­cal party.

I doubt that any new group could call it­self the Nice Party but clearly vot­ers feel the need for a new and bet­ter ver­sion of pol­i­tics than those that are cur­rently on of­fer.

The for­mer prime min­is­ter Tony Blair pointed out that mil­lions of British vot­ers to­day are “po­lit­i­cally home­less”. They feel no loy­alty or even any af­fec­tion to­wards ex­ist­ing po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

The search for a new knight in shin­ing ar­mour to res­cue us has been go­ing on for years – and not only in Bri­tain.

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump pre­tended to be just such a res­cuer. Now many Amer­i­cans may well wish to be res­cued from him too.

An­other res­cuer arose here, where I am writ­ing this, in Italy.

Sil­vio Ber­lus­coni, a rich busi­ness­man like Mr Trump, promised to be “Il Cava­liere” – lit­er­ally, “the knight” – who would save Italy from cor­rupt politi­cians.

Mr Ber­lus­coni out-trumped Mr Trump in his fi­nan­cial and sex scan­dals and is cur­rently banned from run­ning for elected of­fice.

Italy’s search for a suc­cess­ful new force has lessons for Bri­tain and other coun­tries dis­gusted by the in­com­pe­tence and nas­ti­ness of cur­rent po­lit­i­cal life.

I asked an Ital­ian busi­ness­man I met near Genoa what he thought about Italy’s new party, the Five Star Move­ment.

“No bet­ter than the oth­ers,” he said, unim­pressed.

“But,” I per­sisted, “is Five Star a party of the new right or the new left?” The busi­ness­man laughed.

“No­body knows,” he said, “in­clud­ing the Five Star party lead­ers them­selves.”

He con­fessed that for the first time in his life he had no idea whom he should vote for.

Democ­racy de­pends upon healthy po­lit­i­cal par­ties at­tract­ing tal­ented peo­ple with good ideas. But for the vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple in Italy, Bri­tain and the US – in­deed most democracies – join­ing a po­lit­i­cal party seems a ter­ri­ble idea.

Like most peo­ple who have lives, fam­i­lies, jobs and hob­bies, the Ital­ian busi­ness­man has bet­ter things to do than at­tend meet­ings full of po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists with, as he put it, im­prac­ti­cal ideas that could never work in the real world.

When I meet busi­ness peo­ple, aca­demics and lead­ers in var­i­ous pro­fes­sions, they gen­er­ally have strong opin­ions and a wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence, yet the idea of join­ing even a new po­lit­i­cal party strikes them as ut­terly point­less.

At a British busi­ness con­fer­ence, I asked a room of sev­eral hun­dred busi­ness lead­ers if any of them would con­sider run­ning for any kind of po­lit­i­cal of­fice.

The ques­tion re­sulted in hoots of laugh­ter. The most com­mon re­sponses were: “Why would I bother?” Why would any­one put up with the scru­tiny of the me­dia, the vi­cious­ness of po­lit­i­cal life, the long hours of drudgery and bore­dom and (as many of them said) also take a sub­stan­tial pay cut?

Nasty par­ties are nasty with their op­po­nents but they are even nas­tier with their own side. In­sider fac­tions can seem like cults of true be­liev­ers.

On Twit­ter, a Labour ac­tivist and fan of party leader Jeremy Cor­byn com­mented sar­cas­ti­cally about the prospect of a new party: “Best of luck to a group of multi-mil­lion­aires from the 1% launch­ing their own party. We will crush you just as we crush the Tories… Hope some of the melts join them.”

Most out­siders will not un­der­stand this tribal lan­guage. The one per cent means the super-rich. I had to look up “melts” and it turns out to be a nasty party term of abuse for those who do not sub­scribe to the ide­ol­ogy of the most faith­ful cult mem­bers.

And of course Labour is not “crush­ing” any­one. It has not won an elec­tion since 2005, when it was led by its most suc­cess­ful leader ever, Tony Blair, who won three elec­tions by a land­slide.

Mr Blair’s re­ward for his­toric suc­cess is the eter­nal loathing of some of the nas­tier Labour ac­tivists.

I doubt a new party, nice or oth­er­wise, can suc­ceed. But some­thing is des­per­ately needed to suck the poi­son out of British po­lit­i­cal life.

Like most British peo­ple and my Ital­ian busi­ness­man friend, faced with the choice be­tween two par­ties that both seem equally nasty and in­com­pe­tent, I would not cur­rently join ei­ther.

Even worse, I’m ashamed to ad­mit that, for the first time in my adult life, I might not vote at all.

I doubt that a new party, nice or oth­er­wise, can suc­ceed. But some­thing is des­per­ately needed to suck the poi­son out of British po­lit­i­cal life


Was Sil­vio Ber­lus­coni re­ally the man to save Ital­ian pol­i­tics?

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