Elections are not won, they’re lost. Outcomes are decided, not so much on the basis of who campaigns best, as on who fucks up least. What influences voters most is not a candidate’s personal appeal; or a party’s manifesto; or their record in government or opposition. The single most significant factor affecting voters’ choices is the number and quality of the gaffes, blunders, humiliations, pratfalls and car-crash media appearances. Forget party political broadcasts. What voters actually watch are those video clips on YouTube of politicians making total arse-danglers of themselves. The major political event of 2019 wasn’t anything to do with Brexit, but Jacob Rees-Mogg seen lounging on the green leather benches of the House of Commons oozing haughty disdain for the proceedings of what passes for democracy in England-as-Britain.
To be completely fair to the privileged prick, Rees-Mogg was probably exhausted following an arduous afternoon of braying and honking every time an SNP MP rose to speak. Those farmyard noises don’t make themselves.
That lounging incident – or ‘loungegate’ as I would be obliged to call it had I been sufficiently lobotomised to be a British newspaper hack – probably had more impact on the UK general election than even the biggest and most garishly liveried campaign battle-bus. In fact, British Labour missed a trick there. Emblazoning their campaign coach with that image of Rees-Mogg at rest could well have tipped the balance in their favour.
Gaucheries and solecisms have taken on such importance in British politics that it is no longer enough to lie in wait ready to pounce when one comes along. We might suppose that the average British politician could be relied upon to produce a substantial blooper reel for opponents to pick through looking for the juiciest bits. But they’re not dependable. They can’t be trusted to botch and bungle on cue. Supply must chase demand. So politicians – or their plausibly deniable media teams – have been obliged to get creative. Instead of trawling for a suitable snippet that might not even exist, they’ve taken to performing some subtle, or not so subtle, digital surgery on whatever is to hand.
We’ve all seen those sequences in which a whole season’s-worth of missed sitters have been strung together in rapid-fire succession in such a way as to almost make football appear entertaining. Election campaigns are now doing something similar. Digital media being almost infinitely manipulable, it is possible to quickly assemble a video clip seamlessly edited to feature only those moments that make even an opponent’s loving mother cringe.
Conversely, if the Prime Minister has performed the ceremony of laying a wreath at the Cenotaph in the less than dignified style of Mr Bean, he can have the state broadcaster replace the inappropriate comedy act with stock footage of Winston Churchill winning the war. (There probably should be at least one ‘allegedly’ in there. But, fuck it! I’m not in the mood!)
It’s all about perception. Acting on the mindless logic of the mob, electors give their mandate to whoever looks least like an incompetent buffoon or a swivel-eyed loony.
Or so it used to be.
Like much else in the world of politics, the old reliabilities have lately been turned on their heads. As Boris Johnson has demonstrated, it is now possible to be a faux pas on legs that support a bloated bag of triple-distilled mendacity, yet remain in contention for the highest political office in the land. A malignant child-clown. The bastard love-child of Katie Hopkins and Mr Pastry. And quite possibly the British Prime Minister that will be imposed on Scotland for the next five years by English voters acting on the mindless idiocy of the mob.
But let’s not complain too much. This electoral tolerance for sociopathy garbed as zaniness and ineptitude passed-off as eccentricity has knock-on benefits for the SNP. Inured to the antics of Boris Johnson and a British political elite that looks increasingly like a cross between an Ealing comedy and a Victorian freak-show, voters barely notice the SNP’s farcical capers in Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath; or the SNP candidate in Banff & Buchan emphatically disavowing the party’s main aim as set out in its constitution; or the big Boris/Brexit-shaped jobby at the centre of the election campaign where we were promised independence and #indyref2 would be.
Nicola Sturgeon is an astute and capable politician. There is no way she’ll ever fuck up as monumentally as Boris Johnson does constantly. The bad news is that relative competence, credibility and sanity may no longer be enough. The lunatics have taken over the asylum through a shell company registered in the British Virgin Islands.
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