A British Borgen please
If you didn’t see Borgen the first time around, I recommend you catch the repeat on BBC4 at the moment. It is reminiscent of the West Wing in that it portrays a political leader struggling with the choices required in a position of political power, experiencing the impact of that life on family and other relationships, sometimes falling short, but essentially showing politics to be the honourable profession that I believe it to be. I enjoy both these programmes because I have a love of politics. I also enjoy them as they largely represent politicians as decent, capable and hard-working. In other words as I have experienced them during my time in parliament and government.
Don’t get me wrong – I also love The Thick of It – there is often a chaotic and farcical side to government which this gets to a tee. But I am sorry that we have not managed to come up with a UK drama about politics which doesn’t suggest that politicians are either venal, idiotic or evil or any combination – let me know if I’ve missed a UK drama which doesn’t portray politicians like this!
This week, Hopi Sen blogged about some pretty depressing statistics for UK politicians. In a YouGov survey, British voters were asked which party the statement: ‘it is led by people of real ability’ applies to most. Respondents gave ‘none’ a lead over all UK parties combined of six points. None – 45; Conservative -20; Labour – 16; Lib Dem – 3.
I’m not arguing that these views are the direct consequence of UK drama’s inability to show the truth about politicians. I suspect that a global financial crisis, a domestic recession and European leaders’ apparent impotence in the face of larger economic pressures are far more significant. However the dramatic and media portrayal of politicians plays its part. Alongside comment which is too often based on personal insult rather than political critique there is an undermining of the individual reputations of politicians and even more significantly a dangerous underlying suggestion that democracy and democratically elected politicians cannot provide the answers.
Let’s not be cowed by the satirists, the media comment or the fictional portrayals into accepting the denigration of democratic politicians. This week we can celebrate the well deserved honours bestowed on Tessa Jowell and Tony Cunningham. Tessa was a minister throughout the Labour government, making an impact in public health, employment and as culture secretary and of course on winning and organising the Olympics. Besides this, she is a brave and tough champion of progressive politics and a loyal friend. Tony Cunningham wrote the first report calling for a full ban on landmines as an MEP and managed to combine being a whip with never losing his sense of humour or care for others. He gave me an old Aston Villa football programme whilst we worked together in the whips’ office! These two are special and deserve all our congratulations, but they are not a totally different make of politician.
The majority of people who make politics their life are talented, committed and hardworking. And that goes for all political parties too. We should think carefully about the way we talk and write about our opponents too. I don’t think David Cameron is lazy or uncaring – I think he’s wrong. I don’t think Nick Clegg is dishonest, I think he makes the wrong political judgement. George Osborne’s biggest problem isn’t being posh, it’s not listening to Ed Balls!
Politics is an important and noble calling. Let’s celebrate and support those who make a commitment to it and then perhaps others will too.
Borgen, media, politicians, politics, satire, The Thick of It, The West Wing, YouGov