Why is politics still such a boy's game? It really is, with everyone having to be tough and be willing to sacrifice everything on the altar of personal ambition and the race for self-promotion. That’s why politicos became so hooked on Borgen recently. The story of an everyday woman, wife and Mum who becomes the Prime Minister of Denmark and in doing so destroys her marriage and has to give up on many of her cherished beliefs and values. The truth is that many of them recognised it in themselves. I certainly know that when I left ‘formal’ politics I was struck, on reflection, by how shallow many of my political ‘friendships’ were. And also just how unfeeling the political machine really is. I guess when you are part of that machine you choose not to notice these things?
And then when I decided to write a book, Inside Out: My Story of Betrayal and Cowardice at the Heart of New Labour, about my experiences in the Labour Party I made a deliberate choice. I wanted to write about how it felt to be in the machine rather than just describe the machine itself. I wanted to try and describe the relentless, often lonely and brutal world that is party politics, and the unseen impact that this has on the people in it. For many, this ‘touchy feely’ approach was a sure sign that I was clearly not suited for the macho world of politics. I remember someone writing incredulously about how I had even written about the death of my father – in a book about politics! Or another comment about how, because I admitted to feeling stressed at times, I was clearly out of my depth. Such touching empathy is inspiring.
But the serious point is that being in such a macho and unfeeling environment is not healthy for our politicians and is not healthy for our democracy. It is not healthy for our politicians, as significant numbers of them silently succumb to the pressures of the job. The excessive drinking, the broken marriages, the loneliness, the depression. And mostly this is all suffered silently, for fear of being exposed as too weak to do the job. And never mind their health; it can hardly be conducive to the efficient running of our parliaments!
And it is not healthy for our democracy because it limits further the entry of people into elected politics. In order to get elected you generally have to be middle-class. You generally have to have served your time in local politics giving up evenings and weekends to endless meetings and committees. Statistically it is better to be white and male. And in addition you have to be willing to accept working in an environment that requires you to put your family second and be aggressively driven to succeed. And all in the relentless and unforgiving public eye. Sounds attractive – not! No wonder most people look at politicians with disdain and mistrust. But of course it attracts people – people who are willing, or think that they are willing, to tolerate this. And quite frankly that makes them not very representative. And the nature of the system ensures that the non-representative nature of our parliaments is pretty much institutionalized.
Oh well, if you can’t stand the heat then I guess you should just sod off, wimp!