Simon Carr: Abusing leaders is a person's right

Politics happens when you start acting out of hatred of your enemies
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The Independent Online

Are certain sketch-writers "abusing the facilities" of Parliament, and should they have their access restricted until they adopt a more respectful attitude to MPs? The idea gets ventilated now and again and has surfaced in this season's issue of Order, Order! (It's the newsletter of the Association of Former Members of Parliament, one of Britain's most niche publications).

It sounds a bit drastic but, then again, cynicism can be corrosive of democratic values. It encourages apathy and disengagement with the political process. Mockery distracts people from the serious business of public spending which affects the... I'm boring myself now. I did try.

Most national daily newspapers keep a sketch-writer. Each of us has a different style and each does different things according to temperament. But it's fair to say that none of our contracts include the words "balanced reporting", "courtesy at all times" or "expenses".

But there they are, our West Wing MPs, following their noble calling. You ask them why they went into politics and they cannot answer without using the words "to make the world a better place". Then they open up the paper and see one of their most eminent members described as having "a face like an angry haemorrhoid". How can that be right? Is it even legal? Aren't there laws against hate speech?

Actually, the "Mitre'd Hog" defence may not last much longer in Britain. I came across the phrase doing my special paper on satire back at university. An unpopular bishop visiting one of the colleges in the 14th century had a parchment nailed to his door with these words written on it: "Hail, Mitre'd Hog!" The succinctness of that phrase was very powerful, I found. It can still make me laugh.

There has been a long history of vulgar abuse in England, particularly against our leaders and rulers. It's something to do with personal rights for the low born (and that comes from the seventh century with King Ine's laws, so it is one of England's founding traditions). The cartoons in the 18th century would have had a Frenchman in the Bastille. Queen Victoria suggested she might abdicate if the raillerie didn't stop.

But, in point of fact, I made a decision to be less rude some years ago. I'm not sure if it shows. The interesting thing is to show how they do it. That is, how they do it to each other, and how they do it to us.

Today, the Government is more powerful than William the Conqueror. No monarch has ever entertained such ambitions – the health, education and retirement of the whole population – and equalising our lives' outcomes at the same time. No peacetime government has ever spent so much of our money. And if 5 per cent of them went in to make the world a better place, I bet the rest went in because they hated the mess the other lot were making.

Thus, politics is what happens when you start acting out of hatred of your enemies more than love of your friends (subtitled "Gordon and his 10p debacle"). So, whatever attitude we are supposed to adopt towards our political class, "a magnificent body of men and women doing a difficult job under impossible conditions" isn't the first one that comes to mind.

simon@sketch.sc

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