The Stoke by-election may, thankfully, be over, but it will linger on in the memory for the bitterly unedifying spectacle of its two chief antagonists, Labour’s shiny new MP Gareth Snell and Paul Nuttall, doing their level best to outdo each other. Who could tell the biggest lie? Who would alienate the electorate more?
When it came down to it, clearly, the voters felt that Snell’s sin of being a sexist wasn’t as big a deal as Nuttall making up Hillsborough victims. Then again, given Labour’s recent record on sexism, it probably wasn’t considered an unusual stance for a prospective Labour MP to take. But something interesting did turn up on the morning of the election, when Guido Fawkes unearthed the website of Arizona governor hopeful Noah Dyer, running on a platform of, among other things, utter transparency.
On his website he lays bare all possible trespasses that may be used to beat him: his estranged wife, child support, his crippling university debt, his overreliance on credit cards, and his prolific sex life (though the last one sounded like a boast).
Guido lamented that this might herald the coming of the age of transparency. Of course, honesty in a politician is always welcome, but with this new approach, one can’t help feel a little apprehensive. Are we going to see many more candidates trying it?
Is this the end result of the post truth, fake news craze? Have we reached the threshold for how much rubbish we can take? We are still smarting from the deceit that poured forth during the EU referendum and US presidential election. It is understandable, then, that some might look at the wasteland of the political arena, and conclude that a bit of honesty would go down well.
All that will do is usher in a new culture. Between the Blair and Coalition years, MPs were robots with no personality. Recently, the spoils of war went to whoever could be more outlandish. Now we may face a new kind of politician: the over-sharer. Appropriate for the social media generation and tedious beyond measure.
Just imagine if we’d known about Boris Johnson’s past in the Bullingdon Club, smashed windows, debaggings and all, from his campaign leaflets? Or if he’d relayed to us the intricacies of his multiple affairs in real time? “Ahh, what ho chaps, just on my way to catch up with an ’old friend’! Not a word to the wife, what? #awaydays”.
Theresa May would raise eyebrows across the country if she put on her website that she was a “big fan of leather pants”. Tim Farron’s account of his life, one suspects, would be painfully thin, but Clive Lewis’s would be a glorious account, a boy’s own story of his time in the army, which would morph awkwardly into a diatribe against Seumas Milne. Angela Rayner and Rebecca Long-Bailey could summarise themselves with a simple “over-ambitious and both angling for the Labour leadership.”
Anna Soubry’s profile might read “Not really a Tory, just here for a laugh.”
Of course we’d never have had the expenses scandal, but would have known ahead of time that Jacqui Smith’s husband was a pornography connoisseur, or that she saw nothing wrong with getting convicts to paint her house as part of their sentence. If sharing your secrets became a prerequisite, meanwhile, George Osborne would probably never have entered politics, so there’s a positive.
I hope, however, that Noah Dyer’s gimmick is a one-off. Hilarious and scandalous stories come out in the wash anyway: why else would we assume politicians are swine? But MPs are people, and though held to a higher standard, don’t forfeit their right to privacy. We all have pasts we would rather weren’t dragged up, for our own embarrassment and for our friends and families.
We must also be aware that some things must stay off-limits, and encouraging total transparency could endanger that. Could women who have had abortions be dissuaded from entering politics if compelled to share that information? Do former spouses or young children want or need their pasts dragged up for a political career?
What should be more important are politician’s current views and intentions, not the mistakes of the past that have no bearing on their ability but for which they might be judged. If they were convicted of fraud? Fine, but politics is enough of a circus as it is. Total transparency is overkill.
If they had been honest, Paul Nuttall’s campaign would have read: “Lied about Hillsborough. Never lived in Stoke. Follically challenged.” Gareth Snell’s? “I tweet insults at women I disagree with. I have been parachuted into a safe seat, and disagree with the majority of constituents here on their most important issue.”
We don’t need to know about their past relationships or their time at university. Just what they’re up to now – and frankly, that’s bad enough.
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