Ill be honest with you. I didnt put any effort into
this and nor did any of my colleagues in the civil service but we had to go
through the motions, appearing to make every effort to get this project off the
ground - that we really wanted it as much as the politicians. At best our
efforts were half-hearted but that is a way of life for the civil servant.
Despite this, it still managed to get off the ground. We
out-sourced the format and organisation of it to the BBC, let them regurgitate
the usual talent show. I wont go into the details you know what
these shows are like and if you dont, take the effort to Google some
examples and then catch up with the rest of us when you are ready.
Whether it was a fault in the concept or our lack of application
I dont know, but we had to go through three winners of the Peoples
Politician before Seth won it. Thats when I woke up and started paying
attention but it took others, particularly the politicians, longer to
understand what his winning meant. But then I was working closely with him and
could see there was a difference. Id worked with them all, trying to
brief them on the world of politics, what they needed to do every day, educate
them on the machinations of the press and essentially trying to make sure that
they didnt fall on their faces. Three times I failed on that last count
and to be honest, it wasnt until Seth won that things started to work and
in retrospect, it was probably Seth that guided me through the process rather
than the other way round.
Im getting ahead of myself though. Three others graced the
post of Peoples Politician before he arrived and their role in this fable
deserves recognition. Is it really a fable? Did it happen? When you hear the
story you will doubt me, most do. It did happen and it is still happening but
as you wander with me into this story, it does feel like I am recounting a
fairy tale, a lesson from the past or from another world and time. It is all of
that but there are moments, when I think about how we arrived in our here and
now, that it is just unbelievable what happened that is, what still
happens and perhaps most of all, what used to happen. The way we lived is the
most extraordinary part of it, the life that you will be most familiar with so
take a look around yourself, read the newspapers watch the news, listen to what
the politicians are saying, how and why they say it. Take a look at the lives
you and everyone else lead, why you live it the way you do, why you have
devolved your right to self-determination to a political elite who understand
only the concept of your existence and why you so gleefully trade your rights
Take stock of now and keep reminding yourself of it as we go
along because it all changes and dont ever forget, this actually happened
to us. It is possible.
Those first three winners were disasters in their own unique
ways. The first winner, Sian, was a predictable failure. She was all smiles and
giggles, faux stupidity and humility. She was standard reality TV victory fare
and the viewers, who watched the first series in record numbers, voted her in
despite the protests, even pleadings of the judges not to. Youll know
from these talent shows (if you dont and you didnt Google it like I
asked you to, just do it, it will save time) that viewers often go against the
wishes of the judges. So they did that, their behaviour a faint trace of a time
when people actually did kick against authority, refusing to be told what to
do. Its in the DNA; we still wanted to resist but the landscape in which
this would be possible had been eroded and the only outlet left to the people
was the playpen of reality TV.
Sian won despite what authority told viewers to do and the
public felt good about that. Im not sure they had any real understanding
of what the Peoples Politician would be doing and I think Sian was an
experiment chuck her in there and see what happens. If its good,
we were right to vote for her. If its bad, then she knew the risks when
she put herself up for this. Either way, sit back and enjoy the show.
I took Sian into Parliament on her first official day, to parade
her in front of the mildly interested politicians. They were nice to her, at
least the ones who knew who she was and why she was there were, and the PM in
particular lavished praise on her, calling her the embodiment of a new
politics where the people have their wishes expressed and acted upon and you
Sian, have been voted by the people to represent those wishes. I hope the House
will join me when I say that Sian has our full support and confidence as she
takes the lead in this exciting new chapter in our democracy.
You could never be sure with a politician but it looked for all
the world that he actually believed what he was saying.
Of course the House joined him and the adulation of Sian and the
ruse that she represented, carried on for an hour, each party, each region
clamouring to show their support and position themselves as the ones who truly
supported the Peoples Politician. Inevitably, they fell into their
habitual squabbles and Sian was all but forgotten among the point-scoring so I
led her out of there to begin representing the people. Nobody noticed.
So yeah, Sian was a disaster. She had no interest in
representing the people only herself and taking the well worn path
to post-TV stardom. She didnt want to be a politician and she certainly
didnt want to be with the people. Shes had her whole life with them
and was ready to leave them behind. When we did manage to persuade her to do
her job, she was so obviously disengaged, like a truculent teenager, that even
I, who hated the whole charade, was embarrassed.
I wasnt disappointed when it quickly fell apart. Her lack
of commitment to the role was matched by my lack of enthusiasm so I let her
flit around the nightclubs, store openings and award ceremonies to her
hearts content and waited for the inevitable backlash. It didnt
take the press long and it was a pretty straightforward execution job for them.
Run of the mill. They had brought down much bigger beasts than Sian.
Where is the Peoples Politician? they asked
with some restraint but as the months and parties went by, they started to show
the public just where their Politician was stumbling out of nightclubs,
attending film premieres the usual haunts of the reality TV star. Then
the attacks started coming in from the columnists and in debates on the late
night news programmes.
She refused to defend herself with the defence of why
should I?. Why should she indeed? Why should she apologise for her
behaviour when every single one of those criticising her would no doubt have
done the same and in the case of her more privileged detractors, did. But what
she failed to realise was that since she had won her position, she ceased to be
a private individual. It was open season and the old routine had to be played
out the adulation isnt she just so refreshingly
normal?, she is just what this country and politics needs,
gradually morphing into who does she think she is, why am I
paying for her to swan around having fun and finally shes a
national embarrassment, a disgrace, and once it gets to that stage,
its all over.
Sian didnt see it coming or developing and even when I
explained to her that it was all over, that the project had failed, she refused
to believe it. She had developed some kind of conviction that as she was the
Peoples Politician, voted in by the people, that it was not for the
newspapers or any other commentator to tell her when to go.
And of course she was right but she had completely missed the
point that the papers opinions, those of the commentators, were in
effect, the peoples opinions. A mass of people cant have an opinion
so those commentators who have a bit of a flair for writing or polemics voice
their own claiming that it represents public opinion and as they had taken
against Sian, she was done for. Im not sure that they did actually
dislike Sian her destruction probably owed as much to habit as anything
It appeared that the PMs project had failed but his lack
of self-awareness meant that rather than quietly bury his still-born project in
shame, he demanded more effort and greater rigour in finding a
replacement for Sian. He even had the nerve to suggest that it was we in the
civil service who were to blame for the failure, not the fact that it was a
stupid idea, a stupid fucking idea. No it was the lack of support that Sian
This is what the people want the record number of
viewers for the Peoples Politician shows that very clearly, he told
Im sure the House will agree with me that
Sians inability to handle the pressures of her position and the unique
focus of our nations press is a source of great regret to all of us and
indeed, not a little shame too. There are few who sit in the House who would
not sympathise with her troubles.
However, we must ensure that whoever is given the
privilege of taking on her role is properly supported by our civil service. It
is simply not good enough for them to trip along behind our Peoples
Politician and hope that everything works out. I want to see proper guidance
and support from our civil servants.
In fact, I want to see more behaviour reflecting the term
Civil Servant. They are servants, not leaders. Increasingly it
feels as though they are the tail that wishes to wag the dog ...
And so he went off into one of his rants about the civil
service. He expected us to simply do as was bidden by the politicians and have
no view or insight into what it was they were proposing or doing.
Of course we were policy executors, not formers but we
werent idiots we could see when something was going to be a
disaster and we saw it as part of our duty, in our role as servants of the
state, to discreetly protect the nation from politicians.
After all, we were the political experts. Ours was a true
political institution. The House, as we saw it, was a stage for narcissists and
sociopaths to play out their masturbatory little fantasies of grandeur and
importance. All brightly coloured plumes, bombast and sleights of hand. It was
our job to ensure that most of the half-baked, off the cuff policies
didnt get far enough to do any real damage. We were the gatekeepers and
in many ways we were the ones who ran the country as the toddlers in the House
mimicked the real thing.
Anyway, the PM had a pop at us for not supporting Sian properly
and of course we took the scolding seriously, providing reassurances to his
private secretary that we did in fact recognise the inadequacies of our
performance and would ensure that the next iteration of the Peoples
Politician would be one that the PM could be personally proud of and one that
the nation could embrace. And yes of course, every resource would be
immediately poured into the project. Nothing would be left to chance. On to it
right away. No slacking, no. Taking it perfectly seriously this time. Nobody
will leave this building until the PM is satisfied, working through the night
if necessary. Of course secretary, whatever it takes.
Shortly after he left, we went to the pub. Standing just across
the road from our offices, I saw the private secretary making an awful job of
pretending he wasnt witnessing our mockery of him and his master. I tried
to feel shame or pity but it just wasnt coming. I felt good. It was our
version of ignoring the judges and we enjoyed our little rebellion as much as
the TV viewers.
On to Chapter 4