The Sketch: In defence of the apathetic satirists

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The Independent Online

I feel I must step in to defend, if I can, the multimillionaire cynics and satirists from Steve Richards' lash (op-ed pages yesterday). The Bremners, Hislops and Iannuccis. They can dish it out, you see, but they can't take it.

To compress Steve Richards' argument: lazy satire portrays perfectly decent politicians as liars or fools, and that leads to a destructive cliché, that politics "is a giant con on the voters". Cynicism and apathy are the inevitable result, and these natural lefties, he says, are secretly colluding with small-state radicals.

It takes some moral courage to line up on the side of Hazel Blears against Ian Hislop. However. From what I've seen in the past five years, cynicism and apathy are increasingly reasonable responses for anyone outside the political class

Consider Business Questions yesterday.

Teresa May criticised the use of Statutory Instruments. Thirty thousand regulations have been passed through standing committees with absolutely insignificant attention; how unsatisfactory was this?

Jack Straw replied that the Tories had passed 50,000 such instruments in their time. It rather confirmed her point, didn't it? This is an ideal subject for lazy satire: the fact speaks louder than the commentary. Now peel me my grapes. Teresa said a standing committee passed the instruments for the new health authorities this week, even though the said authorities had been established in July and had been working since the first of this month. So what was the point of the committee's scrutiny?

What indeed? I have seen European Standing Committee B subjecting the entire EU budget to scrutiny. It took just over the hour, and there was no way of registering protest, or amendment.

This futility may be why these committees meet essentially in secret. Let me pluck a figure out of the air: 98.6 per cent of the state's public business in the Palace of Westminster goes unwitnessed. A million words a day are spoken in Parliament and two or three hundred are reported in the press. Why? No amount of attention changes anything. What's the point of anything other than apathy?

The political class has grown monstrously in the past decade. It has gained a life of its own. The European Union has added a whole new dimension to the range and depth of our ignorance of political life. Even quite responsible ministers and MPs realise there's too much to know.

But wait, there's worse. Modern politicians have a fundamental epistemological problem. They are no longer able to know whether they are telling the truth or not. Their world is so politicised, that they can only perceive it through statistics which they themselves have commissioned. And in the world of politics, any set of statistics has an equal and opposite set of statistics for those who prefer that sort of thing.

That's not cynicism, any more, that's just how it is.