2017 Was the Year Politicians Met Their Own Mediocrity
History handed the political class a chance to step up, and nobody did.
Collage by Marta Parszeniew
Knowing the breadth of the German language, there's probably a word somewhere in their dictionary that means "he who fears that one day he will have to deal with something as important as his job title suggests he should".
This year, our political class felt precisely that. They had come into politics to tighten the bolts on tax credits. They had come into politics to introduce better car seat safety legislation, or a law against paedophiles standing within 50 metres of Lazer Quest arenas, or to make speeches about standing together against terror that included the phrase "don’t let hate win".
Britain – a fairly rich and pleasant place with truly world class motorway service stations – was meant to just sort of dawdle on with all that while its political classes swept the really big stuff gently under the carpet, kicked various cans down the road and continued to crank more national debt to pay for their indecision.
Unfortunately, that just wouldn’t do in 2017.
The nation had a huge challenge. It needed the biggest minds. The strongest moral compasses.
* Record scratches. Adam Sandler walks through the doors of Number 10. His Converse slide onto a La-Z Boy and he clicks “play” on a Beastie Boys cassette in a boombox. *
It got these guys instead.
* He is followed, in slo-mo, by Owen Wilson and Steve Carrell (inexpicably naked but for a sombrero). *
Is it just a trick of getting older: the sense that the political-class become ever more intellectually diminutive as time goes by?
Like the proverbial younger policeman, there’s a deep whiff of short trousers to the present lot. We’ve dug through all the good ones, and discouraged or diminished any future greats, to the point where the likes of Angela Eagle and Owen Smith are considered viable leadership candidates. Where Andy Burnham is considered a human with a face who walks around.
Compare a Geoffrey Howe or a Tony Benn to Priti Patel – caught foreign policy freelancing after secretly meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu while on holiday in Israel. Or to Grant Shapps, who led the the failed coup against the PM in the autumn, previously caught using the alias "Michael Green" to sell get-rich-quick schemes. Or Liam Fox, who resigned after letting his best mate turn up to key defence meetings.
Gove? Hunt? Bojo? The examples of their ineptitude are too many to list.
The brain-rot went all the way to the top. Despite her initial aura of piety, by election time it was evident that even the PM was just as trivial, more likely to read Harry Potter than Hayek.
What exactly was her philosophy? In July of last year, as she stood on the steps of Downing Street, it had sounded like socially progressive conservatism. By the election, when almost nothing on her original list of beatitudes had become policy, it sounded like "see stuff continue sorta OK".
Humbled by the voters, she tried to tackle that lack of purpose head on, announcing in her disastrous conference speech that she would be taking personal charge of the housing crisis, that she hoped it would be her political legacy.
The details, fleshed out in the autumn budget, would put in place another 25,000 council houses. Over five years. We need 240,000 just to keep pace with the population surge. Every year.
It seemed our politicians had lost the sense that politicians could change the country at all. As it dawned on a generation that the housing backlog would now never be filled-in, we were left staring down a paradox: that only an economic collapse could now push Britain’s youth into the property-owning middle classes. No wonder they’d fallen in love with Corbyn.
Much like the housing crisis, the long-term problems at its core are precisely those that our politicians have ignored. Instead, they’ve turned them into a series of short-term symptoms to be solved, be it through the moral atomisation of neoliberalism or blithe leftist incantations that "we are all the same".
The PM dropped her flagship plans to put workers on boards, fumbled her one and only chance to fix social care, and looked carelessly on at the rise and rise of Orwellian hatespeech codes. When your principles are only survival, every dither or fudge can also be read as a win.
Was it a coincidence that Jacob Rees-Mogg became first a meme, and then a kind of folk hero? Corbyn could hardly be accused of intellectualism – even Pol Pot would be hard-pressed to shoot him. But each in their own way was articulating proper grown-up philosophy: be it from Marx or Burke, each started with a premise about what man is and what life is for, then applied it to the world.
In 2017, the going got serious, and only the serious got going.
Top image, photo of Priti Patel via Dfid Flikr account. All others public domain