Why the election is not about fox-hunting

I wasn't going to talk about politics, but I met a man on the train the other night who finally explained to me what the election was all about, and I'd like to pass it on.

"What you have got to remember," he said, "is that this election is not about politics."

"Hold on a second," I said. "What is it about, then?"

"In this country," he said, "we confuse two quite different things: politics, and party politics. Politics is all about inequality, and oppression, and social purpose, and employment and privilege. Party politics is all about polls and votes of confidence and sleaze and marginal seats and Westminster whispers and Cabinet reshuffles, and all the things they love on Radio 4's Today programme. We are often told that the much-vaunted Today programme has too much politics on it. On the contrary, it has no politics at all. What it has is too much party politics, as when Michael Howard has to confront Jack Straw ..."

The man shuddered.

"So, the election is about party politics?"

"No. There is one other thing you have to remember. The election may appear to be about party politics, but we British always appear to be talking about one thing when really it is all about another."

"How do you mean?"

"Well, take a strike, for instance. A rail strike, which may ostensibly be about pay structure or rostering, is often really about fury with inefficient management. Or take fox-hunting. The battle over fox-hunting is not about cruelty to foxes - none of the people involved really gives a toss about that. It is another town vs country battle, or us vs them, or an outcrop of the class struggle.

"However, hunt saboteurs cannot turn up waving banners saying: 'We Hate These Fat Upper-Middle-Class Port-Faced Gents On Their Big Upper-Middle- Class Fat-Arsed Horses'. So they make out that it is all about cruelty to foxes. Of course, if they really cared about cruelty to animals they would be picketing a battery chicken farm, or an intensive pig farm, where far worse things happen than on fox hunts. In the same way, the election isn't about politics or party politics, even though we all pretend it is."

"So what is it all about?" I asked tensely, glancing at my watch. Another hour to go to my station. Would have he got to the point by then?

"It's about management style. Basically, what Blair is asking us for is a chance to move in and get paid to run the country for the next five years, and he wants to persuade us that he can do it efficiently, profitably and constructively, and more so than the last incumbent. The general election is just a job interview writ large. We, the electorate, are interviewing Blair and Major for the job of running us."

"That's not how it comes across."

"Of course not. It is not allowed to. The party leaders have to pretend it is really a debate about education, health and law and order ..."

"Which it is also."

"Possibly. As they largely agree on most of those things, the so-called debate rings a little false to me. No, what this is all about is a job interview to run the country, and it should be judged on merit and potential."

"In that case," I said, "Kenneth Clarke at least should be left in charge, even if the rest are chucked out. He seems to be doing a good job."

"Spot on," said the man. "And most of the Labour Party would agree. Unfortunately, if Blair gets the job, everyone has to go no matter how good or bad. Nobody will be sorry to see the end of Michael Howard. Everyone will regret the exit of Kenneth Clarke. But it is one of the vagaries of our political system that if the Premiership changes sides, every post has to be vacated and changed. It is almost as if, whenever a club football manager was sacked and a new manager appointed, all the old players were chucked out and a whole new team drafted in."

There was a depressed silence.

"What we need is a completely new system," he said. "The system we have at the moment was devised just to help select a local representative. We are using it to choose a national government. So of course it doesn't work. It is yet another example of us doing one thing while pretending to do another. What we need is a system which will give us the best national management team, and the only way to do that is ..."

I must have fallen asleep there. When I awoke, he had gone. So had my station, but that is another story.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
News
news
News
Sir James Dyson: 'Students must be inspired to take up the challenge of engineering'
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Software Engineer - Python / Node / C / Go

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: *Flexible working in a relaxed ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Bookkeeper

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This accountancy firm have an e...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Developer / Mobile Apps / Java / C# / HTML 5 / JS

£17000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Junior Mobile Application Devel...

Recruitment Genius: LGV Driver - Category C or C+E

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This national Company that manu...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?