The Maybot is a symptom of the identikit era of politician

21 Jul 2017

The Maybot trundles on. As the exit poll was published on 8th June, many predicted this political automaton would be ‘on the blink’ within days, let alone weeks or months. But as time drags on, it seems ever less likely that the Maybot will be superseded any time soon.


Two things are holding it in place: the fear of an early election and the fear of something worse.


Labour’s surge has left the Tories dreading defeat if they go to the country again - the opposition needs a swing of just 1.6% to become the largest party, and a swing of just 3.6% to achieve a majority. But more importantly, there are no appealing candidates to replace her. With most now accepting Johnson’s own admission that “behind the carefully calculated veneer of a blithering idiot, there could of course be a blithering idiot”, the two in-line are Phillip Hammond and David Davis. Two blander, offensively inoffensive and mediocre politicians are unimaginable. 


What has happened to the politicians of eminent distinction, who garnered your respect and admiration even as you disagreed with everything they had to say? The last of the ‘big beasts’, Ken Clarke, has been shuffled off stage; William Hague, an adept orator and serious intellect, was hounded out during the coalition years; Michael Gove, the most ambitious and innovative member of the government has also been sidelined.


Equally, the 2015 Labour leadership race was a contest between Jeremy Corbyn, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham – all career politicians with little experience of life outside politics. Compare this with the race in 1976 between Jim Callaghan, Roy Jenkins, Michael Foot, Denis Healey, Tony Benn and Tony Crosland (four of whom were genuine intellectuals and writers) and one realises how far standards have slipped.


The reason for this decline is because we now expect something completely different of our politicians. We want them to be squeaky-clean, with no skeletons in their closet. Hence Theresa May’s widely parodied claim that the ‘naughtiest’ moment in her sixty years of life was when she ran through a field of wheat. Or Gordon Brown’s refusal to answer a question in 2009 about his favourite biscuit for fear than an answer of Hobnobs would turn away millions of voters who prefer chocolate fingers. Were it not for the cunning plan of crashing out the EU and immediately resigning shaping his legacy, David Cameron would likely have been remembered for his alleged exploits with a pig as an undergraduate.


Previously, the British electorate were quite at ease with ignoring fairly major personal flaws as they looked for big personalities to govern the country. Gladstone, for example, was elected four times despite in 1838 trying to end the separation of church and state by excluding non-conformists and Roman Catholics from government positions. Churchill was elected at a critical moment in the nation’s existence despite being on the wrong side of history for at least 30 years with regard to the Gallipoli landings, Gold Standard, Indian independence and the Abdication Crisis, not to mention his frequent drunkenness.


It is hard to imagine such personal histories and failings being tolerated of today’s politicians. Yet Churchill and Gladstone are popularly considered two of this nation’s greatest Prime Ministers.


So the reason why our politicians are so bland and mediocre is simple – we’ve demanded it of them.


We sneeringly refer to the Prime Minister as the Maybot, but given the reasons for the resignations and retreats of Michael Portillo, William Hague and Chukka Umunna (unwelcome suggestions of homosexuality in the first two instances, too much press scrutiny in the last), it is hardly surprising that we have a parliament full of MPs who won’t tell us what their favourite biscuit is.


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