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Politics: You have to laugh – otherwise you’d cry

By Toby Neal | Politics | Published:

With a comedian the landslide winner of Ukraine’s election, you have to wonder what will happen in the UK if political disaffection gets any worse.

Theresa May drinks in her noble victory after the 2017 General Election

Britain has woken up today to find that it has elected politicians to run the country who have no experience in comedy.

A lot of people are wondering whether this disqualifies them from being fit for office at a time when British politics is, in the words of the former BBC correspondent Gavin Esler (who is now a candidate for Change UK), “a worldwide joke.”

Our MPs just don’t know how to handle it. They only know politics. A lack of a sense of the ridiculous robs them of proportion and perspective.

Meanwhile, in the Ukraine, voters have shown that when the public loses trust in professional politicians, professional comedians can get elected.

Volodymyr Zelensky has not only been elected as that country’s president, but has been elected by a landslide with 73 per cent of the vote.

Apart from having a laugh, his policies are somewhat vague.

Gavin Esler says British politics has become “a worldwide joke”

Nevertheless, the Ukrainians clearly think he can’t be worse than their current bunch in office.

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But that’s Ukraine. It couldn’t happen here, of course. Britain’s electoral system is not configured for a single individual to make the impact that Zelensky has.

There again, some of Britain’s comedians are, I imagine, among the most politically-attuned people in the country.

They get out there among the public. They joke and they provoke, and they have to field heckling, that lost art of politics from the days before politicians employed a bodyguard of spin doctors to communicate with media and the masses through carefully scripted press releases.

Admittedly, joke candidates fare poorly in British elections.

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In the last general election, Lord Buckethead of the Gremloids Party, whose policies included the nationalisation of Adele, was unable to break Theresa May’s grip on the Maidenhead seat. He got 249 votes. She got 37,718.

And despite a track record going back years now, the Monster Raving Loony Party remains of nil electoral significance.

They just add a little bit of colour at elections. As we all know, they are not being serious, and are viewed and treated accordingly.

Opportunity

However, consider this. The message coming back to those campaigning on the doorsteps for the coming local council elections, and looming European elections (if they go ahead), will surely be that the British public is heartily fed up with the shenanigans at Westminster.

So, what if voters come to see a vote for any mainstream politician as a wasted vote?

That would be a window of opportunity for those from outside the traditional political firmament to act as a lightning rod for discontent.

In the Ukraine, it was a comedian. Ha ha.

In Britain, it might give rise to something that is not funny.

We currently have a sort of political primordial soup which could produce some surprises. Surprises can be relatively benign, as with the emergence of Macron’s political movement from a standing start in France.

There can also be nasty surprises.

If people are so disillusioned with the mainstream then, by definition, parties and candidates which are non-mainstream stand to benefit, unless people don’t bother to vote at all, which in itself would represent a potentially dangerous disengagement from the political process.

The Easter Parliamentary break gave us a chance to raise our gaze from the big issue which has consumed all the air from our public discourse and see what else is going on out there.

In France, the national symbol of heritage and continuity, Notre Dame cathedral, was engulfed in flames.

In Sri Lanka, terrible terrorist attacks, seemingly targeted against both Christians and Westerners generally, have claimed the lives of hundreds.

And on the doorstep in London, climate change protesters made things come to even more of a standstill in the capital than is normally the case.

Before the Easter break MPs were said to be shattered.

Back in the Commons refreshed, we will naturally now see more debate and argument, which is all part of the political process.

As they go back to work, they need to show the public something more – that they can make democracy work.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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