Both our major parties seem to be descending into grotesque caricatures of themselves, as extreme as anything the satirist’s pens at Private Eye or Spitting Image could imagine them to be.
To start with Labour, it is at first tempting to compare Jeremy Corbyn with the hapless Wolfie Smith, but at least John Sullivan’s character was a loveable rogue, whereas Corbyn’s ashen-faced puritanism is more akin to the miserabilist Dave Spart of ancient Private Eye fame.
Not to be outdone, the Tories seem to be rebranding themselves as a competitor to that Sloane Ranger reality TV show Made In Chelsea, complete with their own Spencer Matthews figure, Mark Clarke, roving around charming and bedding young posh birds wherever he finds them.
Of course it is not really funny, not funny at all. At a human level, Spencer Matthews may be a joke, but a modern day Flashman is not, and a poor young man has, allegedly, taken his own life after being subjected to bullying. The former Tory Party chairman Grant Shapps has already had to fall on his sword as the scandal laps at the feet of senior party colleagues. Even without the help of Mr Clarke, the party’s careful rebranding is dissolving fast: seeing themselves as home and dry with the election of Mr Corbyn, the mask is now slipping to reveal a face of arrogant privilege, complacency and entitlement. Now dubbed – what else – the “Tatler Tories”, their ‘smug grins’ have moved none other than the Old Etonian and Daily Telegraph doyen Charles Moore to want to vote Labour.
Even less funny is to find John McDonnell in the shadow cabinet: whether or not his quoting from the mass murdering Mao’s Little Red Book in Parliament was a joke or not, it was certainly extremely crass and offensive given his own past in sympathising with grisly revolutionary movements such as the terrorist Provisional IRA.
However, least funny at all is the fact that we now have no serious opposition critique of the boy scout antics, beloved of our Metropolitan Elite, of bombing yet another Middle Eastern country without any serious consideration of the long term consequences. Even more destructively, it is plainly being used as a displacement activity to avoid the hard thinkingabout how we can combat the jihadi menace effectively. A few years ago al-Qaeda (remember them?) – who so-called Islamic State (Isis) make look almost loveable by comparison – was the many-headed Hydra that the West had to confront.
Even if Isis can be bombed into submission, what replaces them? Has anyone thought about it for even a moment? Each iteration of Islamic terrorism seems to mutate into something even more vicious and malignant than before. This obviously has reasons to be found very deepwith the Islamic cultures of the region that will take a very long time to solve, and changing patterns of demography both in the West and Middle East bode very ill indeed for the West’s ability to cope with it. A start must be made now, and we expect our politicians to be people of the necessary gravity and moral courage to debate the issues openly. However painful that may be, it will be a hundred times more so twenty or thirty years from now.
At a time we are confronting the most terrible evil that, to quote broadcaster Andrew Neil, would shame the Middle Ages, Her Majesty’s Opposition wouldn’t seem out of place giving recitals of Das Kapital in an autonomous worker’s collective, while the Tories seem to prefer playing at Downton Abbey without the Earl of Grantham’s sense of style or noblesse oblige.
And this is supposed to be the politics of the 21st Century.