Christina Patterson: Politics is dirty and difficult. And a noble calling...

I’m very glad I don’t have to have my cleavage subjected to national scrutiny
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The Independent Online

If Alan Duncan and his ilk think it's tough to be a politician, they might give some thought to Morgan Tsvangirai. Put the 51-year-old son of a wing commander, who has made millions out of oil, in a room with the 57-year-old son of a bricklayer, who spent 10 years working in a mine, and he might discover that some politicians have a little more to worry about than the fact that they're condemned to live on "rations".

Tsvanigirai, who won last year's presidential election in Zimbabwe, and has survived a brutal beating by police and multiple attacks on his life, and been arrested and tried for treason, and whose wife and grandson were both killed last year in separate car crashes, now shares power with the man who stole the election, and who tried to imprison and kill him. He shares power not because he thought it would be a lovely idea to kiss and make up and sing "Kum Bah Yah", but because the sitting tenant, a brutal dictator who has run a murderous regime for nearly 30 years, refused to budge. And what do you do? Watch the country you love sink further into violence and mass collapse, or do you take the tiny crumbs of so-called power that are tossed to you, and do your best?

Tsvangirai made his Hobson's choice and as a result more Zimbabweans are able to feed their children, and more are not just working, but getting paid. The price is hard to imagine, but Tsvangirai does not have the air of someone who is crushed. Meetings with Mugabe were, he said this week, not "acrimonious", but cordial. "Over a long period of time," he added, "you start to develop some chemistry."

Chemistry?! This isn't When Harry Met Sally! But even forced marriages, it seems, have their moments of levity. Just think of that slapstick duo, the Chuckle Brothers, made up of a bullying bigot who founded a church, because the church he belonged to didn't hate Catholics enough, who in the name of God preached paranoia and hatred and inspired countless acts of paramilitary violence, and a former Chief of Staff of a different paramilitary organisation that specialised in blowing up mothers and babies in shopping centres and teenagers in pubs. Not, you'd have thought, a marriage of true minds, but the chemistry, it turned out, was so intense that it made other people in the Northern Irish Assembly feel like intruders on a passionate love affair.

The truth, it turned out, was that they had masses in common, including that stalwart of a successful relationship, a GSOH. Call it Stockholm syndrome, call it shared humanity, but put two people in a room together and they'll tend to discover that the other person is (even if they're a murdering monster) human.

Stick the hideous Israeli hawks in a room with the intransigent ideologues of Hamas, and see how they get on. They both, in theory, disapprove of murdering civilians, but do it anyway. They both deny the right of the other to exist. They would both rather be right than have peace. Not sure about the GSOH, but it's not a bad start.

Politics, as poor Obama has discovered in his dealings with the gun-toting nutters of the American right, is about compromise – sometimes horrifically botched compromise. How many young men do you send to die to safeguard a regime with a corrupt puppet president who has been buying votes and selling women's bodies in order to hold on to power? Two? 200? 2,000? And if the alternative is an even more misogynistic medieval fiefdom run by people you funded to crush the Soviets?

And when the economy of your country (and much of the world) has collapsed, who do you listen to? The man who, as Chancellor, got us into the mess? The not-at-all-pro-Government governor of the Bank of England who has endorsed, and suggested extending, some of his reflationary policies? The prime-minister-in-waiting who believes they're a disaster and would opt for a Thatcherite tight purse? Or do you just hand it all over to Joanna Lumley?

This is tricky, tricky stuff. I'm very glad I don't have to make these decisions, or share my office with people who've tried to kill me (though all that screaming over the Ashes nearly did). I'm very glad I don't have to have my paltry purchases pored over by sneering journalists, or my cleavage subjected to national scrutiny, or my haircut, outfits, love life and speeches in the Commons weighed in the balance, and found wanting. But someone has to do it. Someone has to make these choices, and present an electorate that wants peace, prosperity, security and an easy life at a bargain basement price with the difficult, unpalatable options on offer.

In recent months, our politicians have let us down. They've let us down with petty fiddles and petty moaning and a petty (but almost understandable) obsession with PR. But politics, in spite of its compromises, remains a necessary, and even a noble, calling, and one that needs the best minds it can get. Let's by all means reform a tired (and currently emotional) Parliament, but let's remember that politics is the art of the possible. The impossible, as we all know, takes a bit longer.

c.patterson@independent.co.uk

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