This series of UK politics feels suspiciously like daytime TV
This piece by Michael Hayman originally appeared in City A.M, see here
Last week’s local elections were a democratic amuse bouche. A mere mouthful of popular sentiment, sending a message to the political elite that an offering meant to delight the taste buds has fallen as flat as a soggy souffle.
Like a daytime TV rerun of MasterChef, it involved lots of familiar names and tried but tired recipes.
The government will be breathing a sigh of relief that, despite the meltdown in the locals, expectations are so low that it only measures as a humdrum awful night at the polls, rather than the existential moment where the wheels fall off.
In these strange times, that counts as as a pièce de résistance of political survival.
It’s quite something that, in a political debate fuelled by a permanent sense of crisis, the electorate remains balanced in its choices. Yet again, nobody emerges as a runaway winner, as the nation waits and sees.
And the local elections are also a message to those who believe that the only way you can win the people’s approval is to terrify them into backing you. For those committed to regime change, the lesson of last Thursday might be that in the war of the words you are running out of emergencies to declare.
The author and academic Hans Rosling called this the “overdramatic world view”, describing such a narrative as “stressful and misleading”. In his book Factfulness, he argued that we are in far better shape than we are often led to believe.
Last week’s elections suggest that we get that and don’t like the endless message of terror coming from the mouths of the major players. It’s time to change the recipe, and that means a new conversation.
We have had too long living in a twilight zone where chaos and foreboding is the only status quo. The state of permanent emergency, it turns out, is not a place where we want to be.
For the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition alike, if they want a future for their own brands of politics, it rests on ditching the doom and coming up with answers – quickly.
That means not only agreeing on what sort of Brexit they can both live with, but crucially communicating a sense of hope about what life might be like beyond our EU exit.
Which brings us to the next underwhelming instalment of political life. Yes, just when you thought you couldn’t cram another morsel into your ballot box, get ready for the next course: the European elections – this time with brand new contestants here to spice up the ageing formula of British politics.
For years, our wilful lack of knowledge of EU institutions has been a serious matter of national pride. Know the name of your MEP? Didn’t think so. Apart from the odd know-it-all on Mastermind, our interest in the EU tended to top out at bendy bananas and French fishermen.
But there is something very different in the air this time. Like buses – nothing for ages, then the arrival of two new light entertainment choices: the Brexit Party and Change UK.
This could be lethal for the Conservatives and Labour alike. A real chance to vote for change, and if that doesn’t set the clock ticking and focus the mind of the respective main party leaders, nothing will.
Despite the menace, there is something reassuringly daytime TV about the new forces in the land. Less Game of Thrones, more Homes Under the Hammer.
You could see Change UK as the chintzy new show from Phil and Kirsty: looking to make sure that a new lick of paint gives the impression of change to your wonderful home, but don’t worry, underneath it all stays the same.
Over at the Brexit Party, meanwhile, it’s all beer and bunga bunga as the nation gets ready to sweat it out on the dance floor – although the show creators should watch out for watershed violations, especially given the views of some of the more colourful candidates.
Still, despite the best efforts of Nigel Farage, Ann Widdecombe, Rachel Johnson and Gavin Essler – leading figures in these new parties who all know a thing or two about daytime TV – you can’t help but be drawn back to Westminster if you want the real deal, the darkest drama.
It’s gone full on EastEnders up west. Gavin Williamson has given us the best Phil Mitchell moment since the hard man left Walford back in the early 2000s, swearing on the life of his kids that he didn’t do it in his Huawei-induced exit.
Then there’s Theresa May, who gave us a perfect Peggy Mitchell “get out of my pub” moment. Meanwhile, the coppers could cave in the doors of the Queen Vic at any moment.
But all of this is a mere entree to the Corbyn and May Love Island moment. Can they seal the deal?
Will they pronounce on the world stage that Britain’s Got Talent, and end the uncertainty of Brexit once and for all?
From all those with businesses to build, jobs to protect and lives to lead, the message is to get on with it. The sooner we can confine this unappetising instalment of the national story to a memory in a rerun on Dave, the better.