I remember it like it was yesterday. Can’t vote but still care. It was my first ever headline in a newspaper. I was fourteen and my submission to the Bolton Evening News’ letters page was a call to arms for people to step up and vote in the 2005 general election.
I was a lone wolf in my teenage love of politics, marching around the school with badges, holding court in the playground, canvassing teachers at the end of lessons.
I grew up in a politically active family. My Grandad, and his Dad before him, had both been elected to town council. While it’s hard to know exactly what you believe at fourteen, I knew I believed in politics.
This week – heck, this decade – belief in politics as a force for good has been put through an almighty stress test.
There are now six inquiries into David Cameron lobbying government ministers for COVID support – and major questions about the role of his financier friend Lex Greensill played in his own government. With every passing day, a new story emerges of a conflict of interests. Today, we learn that health secretary Matt Hancock and his sister have shares in a company awarded hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of NHS contracts. There is no suggestion that Hancock acted improperly or had any say over how that money was spent, but it’s just a flavour of the tangled web of nepotism that surrounds positions of power.
So how has this most recent cluster of cronyism, thrown onto the mounting pile of previous misdemeanours, been met by the public? With a heavy sigh and a shrug of the shoulders.
And that is the most troubling thing of all. Have we simply come to conclude that politics is a game of corruption? That power corrupts, and we just have to live with it? That putting our faith in those at the top to be completely above board is a waste of time? If that is true, it creates an apathy that politicians and those around them can feed on.
There has also been an enormous real world test of how much we trust our political leaders – when they stood before the nation and asked us to change almost every element of our lives overnight. With the exception of a few loud voices and rogue dissenters, the vast majority of people trusted them, supported them and stuck to the newly imposed rules. The vast majority continue to do that today. Contrast that with the USA, where mistrust and disdain for government is built into the DNA of being American, and you’re left with a story of resistance, descent and one of the highest death tolls in the world.
On the face of it the government issuing contracts to friends, former Prime Minister’s having quiet words in ears and ministers keeping their jobs despite spectacular failures seems like a slam dunk for any opposition. But politics is about emotion. That’s rule number one. History is littered with political campaigns that have come unstuck by focusing on the details and technicalities. Are Ken and Margaret from Hull, or Dave the ‘Workington Man’, or Faizah from London who is trying to put food on the table, really spending their time pouring over the finer details of who David Cameron did or didn’t text?
With the exception of one big moment of cut through – when Dominic Cummings broke his own lockdown rules and a bored nation hoovered up the ensuing soap opera – people are willing the government on. Love them or loathe them, whether you voted for them or not, right now their success is the country’s success. With the vaccine bounce and the pubs reopening, a Times/YouGov poll today suggests that it’s working, with the Tories taking a 14 point lead over Labour.
It creates a major headache for Sir Kier Starmer and presents a unique opportunity for Boris Johnson. Between the country needing him to succeed, recent emotional wins over Brexit and that helpful streak of apathy, he could easily conclude that he can get away with anything.
That is terrifying, but it goes some way to explain the absence of consequences for ministers like Priti Patel, Robert Jenrick and Gavin Williamson, whose missteps would have surely seen them sacked in any other era, and advisors like Cummings who had the full support of government thrown behind him.
So has trust in politics reached the point of no return? Where we simply expect our political institutions to be the scene of corruption, and those involved are free to crack on without repercussion at the polls?
Maybe. Maybe not. This weekend, we’ll ask that question to Jacqueline Baxter – a professor for the Open University who has written the book on trust in politics – and we’ll ask if that faith can ever be restored.
I am passionate about politics, and I think I always will be. You can love the game without loving the players. Faith in politicians comes and goes, but politics will always have the power to change people’s lives.
Prince Phillip’s personal passions will be on full display as he is laid to rest at Windsor Castle on Saturday afternoon. A modified Land Rover, designed by the Duke himself, will carry his coffin.
There has been a week full of reflection and commentary – with certain sections of the press wasting no time trying to drive a wedge between Harry and the rest of the family. It’s hard to imagine being so crass as to use the death of a Grandfather to paint a negative picture of a Grandson he dearly loved. But here we are.
Say what you like about the institution of the Royal Family, the politics and the optics – but this week, a family have been mourning a huge loss. You can greet that by gleefully dredging up feuds to give the ones you don’t like a good kicking, or you can accept it as a personal tragedy and let it be. For everything that can be said, I cannot stop thinking about how hard it must be to lose your partner after 73 years of marriage.
Amongst the noise, it’s clear the family are determined to remember Prince Phillip as he was… a husband, father and grandfather. And at the centre of the ceremonial part of his funeral, he will live on through his passion for Land Rovers.
The last year has given us time to reconnect with our passions – or find new ones. It’s highlighted the importance of them, how they give us a sense of purpose and belonging. They ground us and they make us human.
My Mum, in the year she suffered a breakdown, took to crafts. She found the light and mindful nature of making things brought her peace. My Grandad is a master gardener. It brings him a joy that few other things can match. My friend Tom builds cars, my friend Harriet is a passionate lego builder, for Ian it’s the piano and for Eric it’s a love of maps.
These are the things that make us who we are, and they linger on after we’ve gone.
This weekend, we’ll speak to an expert about Prince Phillip’s love for the Land Rover and we’ll find out why personal passions can be so important.
Also this weekend, as President Biden declares a state of national emergency and imposes sanctions on Russia for threats to American cyber security, we’ll take a crash course in what the hell that means. And we’ll hear how – and why – scientists have grown human cells in monkey embryos.
See you in the morning.
Weekend Early Breakfast with Darryl Morris – Saturday / Sunday – 5am-7am – on talkRADIO.April 16, 2021 | No Comments