Somewhere between 1605 and 1610 Williams Shakespeare wrote a play called Coriolanus. It is the story of a mans rise and fall from grace among the political columns of Rome in the 5th century BC.
That would be a brief synopsis. This will be neither.
Coriolanus was his mothers son. She appears to have shaped him into a warrior, celebrating his successes by the scars he returned with. Her approval was wrapped in his demonstrating a lion heart. She encouraged his passion, flamed it even. He went to fight, fought bravely, and based on that fighting encourages him to run for consul. This post was the highest elected office of the Roman Republic. The Republic had multiple consul but loosely this could be equated to a modern day Prime Minister, the highest elected office of our land.
Brutus and Sicinius are tribunes. They too are elected but are beneath the consuls in the hierarchy. They are schemers and instigators, directly and persistently opposed to Coriolanus, despite theirs and his elected role. In the play they are portrayed as spin doctors, the people with the real power who control through their own networks the emotions and moods of the people. The modern day equivalent? Strictly speaking there is none. No elected officials have the power to control ‘the people’. Instead this power has been assumed by portions of the media.
Coriolanus’ is also influenced by a Patrician called Agrippa. He is the man Coriolanus trusts to speak the truth, but he is not elected, his post accorded to him instead by social standing and perceived knowledge and understanding of politics. These days we call them Special Advisors and they are no less connected, nor any less trusted by those who require advice and guidance from someone outside the circle of democratically elected officials.
In order to be elected consul, it is not enough for Coriolanus to have shown his mettle on the battle field, where he excels and understands the clear aims of what he must do. He is asked to collect notes from the phlebians, the ordinary citizens of Rome who are not wealthy and connected but who are ‘normal’ people. These notes must be collected in order for him to have been ‘elected’ as far as I can make out. It is the modern day equivalent of a ballot with no box, where the electorate hand their papers directly to the man they want to elect, or instead withhold them.
Coriolanus is a man of class. But he is also a man of war. Like the old Kings of Western Europe, he is uncomfortable with the political manipulations of power, or rather lacks the personality, and so instead ends up on the end of the strings of those who do. But those strings cannot contain his core beliefs, which are that the phlebians, the ordinary citizen do not deserve what the state gives them, because they do not fight and do not earn it. Because this tale is missing a Press Office, his opinions arrive at the foot of the citizen unfiltered and unmoderated and the citizens dislike this and rise up, fanned by the well placed words of the tribunes.
Coriolanus leaves Rome and this is where I leave him, except to say that he ends the story dangling from his feet above the stage, his throat cut as a traitor.
Coriolanus is a man. Nothing more. He is his mothers son, his advisors listener and his tribunes target. His wife is an irrelevance. And so we must close the circle to acknowledge that our Prime Minister is just a man, his mothers son, his advisors listener and the medias target. He is not superhero. He is not script written. He is not a figment of imagination. He is real, of flesh and blood.
And like Coriolanus he makes mistakes. And so do his fellow elected officials, who these days spend less time it would seem manipulating the electorate because the media has become a wedge to prevent them, and instead spend far more time than perhaps they should turning their manipulations onto their Leader. Possibly. I cannot speak for the current government, only for past ones. Mandelson, Blair and Brown spring to mind.
So what’s the point of all this?
Coriolanus was a great warrior but he was no politician. But because he was a great warrior, he was wedged into becoming a politician. He was honest and spoke the truth at every turn, unable to hide his disdain of the ordinary man. Eventually, inevitably, he was crucified for this.
Well actually it doesn’t does it. What actually happens is this. A man is elected, Prime Minister or MP. He has good intentions, because they all do. Whether you agree with the policies the good intentions are based or no is completely irrelevant here, the relevance is the starting with those good intentions. Clear objectives. Brave hearts. A determination to change something for the better and leave a legacy. Yes, the leaving a legacy bit is egotistical but bear with me. You’ve got to forgive them something, because they’re human. As are we all, and if you delude yourself into thinking you would do better, well… we’ll come to that in a moment.
So they start with good intentions. And then reality gets in the way. Inherited omnishambles, press offices, communications teams, the media, the opposition who have nothing to lose, the fact that you are no longer in opposition and the game has completely changed, all this gets in the way. And the man you were, the honest man, the man who had decided to be open and brave, stand by his pole planted firmly at the top of the mountain called ‘Good politics’ disappears in a melee of voices clamoring about timings, messages, crisis, reactions, 24 hour rolling news responses and being doorstepped at 4am.
To put not to fine a point on it, a man inevitably walks into this machine as one thing and inevitably walks out another.
We ask great things of our leaders. All of them. We ask them to be truthful and honest and then we crucify them when they are not. Or rather the media do. But you buy that media, you watch it, you pay money into it’s big fat machines. You are responsible whether you like it or not, every single time you buy a front page splash of yet another expenses scandal so you can take it home, devour the details and tut under your breath the next day when it comes up over lunch. Expenses scandals are the red button for the media. It sells papers like Diana used to. And an MP being honest doesn’t. You don’t want to hear when an MP does something right. You don’t want to hear when an MP is being honest. I know you don’t because it doesn’t sell papers. Unless that honesty is at cross purposes with his own government’s policy. Then you’re all over it. Because he did something wrong by being honest.
You get what you deserve.
We ask them to deal with the business of the day. Some days, that’s a big lot of business. Russian, currencies, global economies, US foreign policy – all of it lands on someones desk. That someone works until 11pm, midnight, 1am, 2am, 3am, so you can sleep in your nice warm bed with your nice warm children tucked up safely in the room next to you without having to worry about any of this because someone else is doing the worrying for you. That person has children and a wife too but you don’t think about that because that would be too difficult. And then when they make the wrong decision, guess what happens? The media tears that decision apart, and the subsequently the person who made it, they tear them apart too. Like a pack of animals, no one will rest until there is a name. It’s not enough to have a group of names. No. It has to be one name. And no one cares how many good decisions that person has made prior to making that one bad decision. And no one asks if there is a better qualified person to replace them, which often there is not. No. Instead he is fired. Or resigns. Which is basically being fired but politely.
You get what you deserve.
We ask them to look perfect for TV. For camera. Make up and well fitting suits. Heels but only kitten and pearls but only if they’re ‘on trend’. We pillory them for their weight, for looking podgy (it might be steroids but lets not talk about the shocking fact that an MP might get ill), for getting out of breath (they cared enough to run, it was important enough, god damnit, for that person to run), for wearing the wrong earrings or the wrong colour shoes. We laugh at them. We mock them. We disrespect them and the fact that they may have more important things to think about than what’s in their handbag at every turn.
You get what you deserve.
I could go on and on and on. Out of touch. Too posh. Too Scottish. Too down to earth, not down to earth enough, cross eyed, wearing glasses which glint on television, gaps in their teeth, sack of potatoes in that dress, wrong decision, right decision but never fast enough, considered decision was considered too long, you didn’t look like you cared, god why on earth do we want MP’s that care so much they cry…
You get everything that you deserve.
As a result, a result of all of this, the final mockery of our democratic process is as comedian telling people to disengage entirely from it. Don’t vote he says. Express your ire and anger in a different way he says. Nothing happens. I tell you why nothing happened. There is no call to arms so great that it could motivate anyone to take action, no personality nor leader that can fix this mess we have got ourselves into. You say you want normal people to represent the normal people but there is no space for normal people any more, because normal people cry and have kids and sick down their front and have to wear glasses because they’re too icked out to wear contact lenses and break arms having fun at the weekend and want to go on holiday where they want to go on holiday not where the fucking papers think it’s okay for them to go on holiday.
Those of you who do bother to vote whine a year later that you didn’t vote for that policy that’s steam rollering through your beloved NHS or your education system. Well you did. If you’re naive and stupid enough to not do your research on something so important that has been minimised completely to ticking a box after some random bloke may or may not have bothered to knock on your door during the day while you were at work cos he does have a family to go home to in the evenings who you may or may not have actually asked questions of regarding those policies which are so damn important to you…
You got what you deserved.
This is it people. The end. There is no where else to go in a democracy. Voter apathy means mess. No decisive winner means mess. Politics isn’t clear cut and occasionally it does result in a complete mess. Dithering results in mess. Not doing your homework results in mess. Not cutting people some slack results in mess. People are mess. People are human. You elected human beings, not some group of Toshiba robots who box tick endlessly without even thinking about it. 2am or 2pm, there is thought. It’s more thought than you’ll have, and it will be a bigger decision, that one decision on that one day, than any you will have made in your life short of getting married or having a child.
You entrust super scary massive shit to these people. Either accord them some respect and do some homework and work out who you actually believe in and trust to represent you and what you want and how you want to live your life or stop whining, devouring the trash in the newspapers and let them get on with it.
Trust them, or trust yourselves. But for gods sake pick one. Because we really don’t want to go back to the end of the beginning of this story where a man hangs by his feet with his throat cut.