I bumped into someone I know over the weekend who was put forward by a certain party to run in the recent local elections. They didn’t get in, but were happy enough with their performance as it was a virgin run and the first time they had dipped their toe into the piranha infested waters of local politics.
“Would you do it again” I casually asked. “Never!” Was the very definite and quick response, leading me to believe they were probably being honest. The facial contortion that accompanied it said even more. Without prompting I got a run down on the events leading up to voting day, the subsequent count and the aftermath. But the most surprising revelation was that in the group of people running for this particular party there was deep division and, I quote, “hatred”!
We’re not talking healthy, good natured rivalry but pure vitriol. Can it be true? What about the lovely colour poster with all those happy smiling faces lined up together projecting a façade of camaraderie and shared vision for the future!? “All b*ll***s”, I was told. They added: “I thought we’d all help each other out and there would be good support, but I was wrong.” Now even I perceived that statement as a little idealistic, but the level of division being reported was still quite appalling.
I remember reading once that the week after the Oscar ceremony in Hollywood each year is a time of great depression for many of the ‘nominated but no cigar’ brigade. After the parties and the “I was just pleased to be nominated with such an awesome bunch of people” post event, red carpet comments, the nominees that didn’t win go home and sink into despair. Every year there’s a great deal of soul searching, feelings of failure abound and a lot of love is needed from agents and entourage toward the insecure stars to get them through their trauma. From what I can gather the local political scene bares glaring similarities to post Oscars Hollywood. We almost had Californian sunshine this year as well.
The particular losing candidate that I met went on to tell me that it took several days after the defeat for the local high profile member of this particular party to phone and offer commiserations. This was seen as very poor behaviour as it was this high profile member who had persuaded this person to run in the first place. During their quick telephone post mortem the losing candidate pointed out that they were quite taken aback at the level of discontent within the camp and that running mates ‘hated’ each other. The high profile member replied “that’s politics.” The tone didn’t even merit an exclamation mark; it was just a cynical and cold response to what appears to be a very cynical and cold world indeed.
I always laboured under the illusion that politics was about more than that. While it would be wholly naïve to think that everyone involved was there for the greater good, I liked to think that the majority were. In my world individuals would only wade into such murky waters because their passions had been ignited and deep down they wanted to make their world a better place, whether that was on the local or national stage. These people would also have to be brave souls who didn’t mind exposing themselves and their families to great disruption and all the disadvantages that go with being a public figure.
Given that politicians are a wide and varied group it would be silly to assume that they would all get on well together, but one would like to believe that personal grudges and beliefs could have been easily and willingly laid down in order to realise the bigger vision. Apparently that’s a ridiculous thought.
Sadly, since that conversation with the losing candidate I have shared the story with a few others who I would have assumed would be as surprised as I was at the reality. I’ve been told to “get a life, sure aren’t they all the same”, “I’m not one bit surprised, they’re all only out for themselves anyway”, “ah sure the whole thing is a joke, they’re all as bad as each other”. These are genuine comments. I’m beginning to wonder why we bother with the local elections at all. By the looks of things it’s just a bit of diversion, something to take our minds off the real problems and the weather for a while and a little boost for the printing industry and cable tie sales.
I then heard from another first time candidate, this time an Independent, who’d had scurrilous, contemptuous and totally untrue remarks made about them publicly by another very experienced candidate from a political party. I can personally vouch that the remarks were untrue, but were obviously made to hamper this candidate’s chances. I happen to know the person involved and they were successful in being re-elected but I’ll never look at them the same way again. Another political lesson learned the hard way: It’s not about what’s best for the area or playing fair, it’s about winning at all costs even if the price you pay is your personal integrity. It’s quite ironic that one of the qualities we would all want in a politician, integrity, is what they often sacrifice in order to win elections.
To say it is rotten to the core is probably exaggerating. To make out that it’s all about arse covering, back stabbing and looking out for number one, regardless of whether you are an Independent or with a party, is also probably a little unfair but obviously a few of our representatives think it is! And I wonder how wrong it is to suggest that politics is really about playing a game and making sure that it looks like you’re doing something, whether you are actually doing anything constructive or not? I’m still not sure if there is a proper definition for local politics, but at least now I am clear on what it’s not.