F*ck civility: Politeness is a cosh and in the media, it's a prison

The press and media are Jeremy Paxman and Boris Johnson wobbling along on a tandem

I have met a few politicians in my time. Some were sneaky in that they had yet to be elected to Parliament and were still pretending to be, for instance, a student or another journalist. But Labour MP Wes Streeting was clearly destined to be a politician when I met him at Cambridge — in fact, he was already up to his neck in student politics.

Matt Warman (now a minister), who I briefly intersected with at The Daily Telegraph, where I was a lowly contracted writer on the Comment desk and he was a tech section editor who found my mere presence an irritation, was clearly only in the job as a stop-gap, his selection for a safe Tory seat seemingly no more than a formality.

I don’t really like politicians. There are some good ones, but then there are some good estate agents, mercenaries, and petty criminals. On the whole, I follow the Jeremy Paxman school of thinking when I encounter politicians: “Why is this lying bastard lying to me?”

People in politics will throw their hands in the air at that statement. They like to think of themselves as hard-charging staffers in The West Wing, rather than people in a dungeon full of piss desperately trying to bail it out with broken buckets. Having provided media training to [redacted] and [redacted] as well as briefly ghostwriting for [redacted] I will tell you that some people in politics have good intentions but as they tunnel through the shit with teaspoons, it’s hard to argue that they’re building a sustainable tunnel with a light at the end of it.

The problem with politics and the media, in fact, especially when the two intersect is that they are dominated by people for whom the whole exercise is a parlour game. The shorthand name for those people is ‘the rich’. “Eat the rich” used to be a popular slogan but I wouldn’t advise it as I have seen where most rich people have been and you’re likely to catch salmonella off their rancid meat… or worse.

As our elite political journalists and the politicians they nominally hold to account socialise in similar circles, send their kids to the same schools and often attend the same parties (at least in the before times), they tend to think the same too. That’s why there are so many unwritten but iron cast rules that politicians and hacks tend to abide by and which carry quite stern social opprobrium if broken.

Chief among their diktats is that civility is what politics needs. We are meant to be polite, even if the establishments have a habit of dismissing vast groups of people, and painting those from backgrounds and economic circumstances that are different to theirs as feckless cumshedders with all the personal responsibility of a budgie in a millet factory.

If I tell a politician to fuck off, that’s trolling. If a politician tells me to fuck off, that’s character. If I murdered one person, that would be a crime. When Henry Kissinger engineered the death of hundreds of thousands, that elevated him to the level of deathless — please, please, please, die — statesman.

In an unwise bit of televisual goonery, Jeremy Paxman once rode around London with then-Mayor of London Boris Johnson on an ageing tandem. That’s a good metaphor for the relationship between the press and politicians in the United Kingdom now.

They are both on the same battered bicycle, each certain that the other is setting the course, both barrelling towards ever greater disaster, but pretending that they enjoy it as they do. At my kindest, I want to put speed bumps in the road. At my most honest, I would like access to a stinger — the device police throw into the path of speeding cars — and see the tandem crash into a privet hedge, upon which an angry local man will descend with his sheers in hand, screaming something about bin collections.

I have received several emails that have enjoyed these newsletters, but I do also get occasional complaints that I’m ‘rude’, ‘impolite’ and ‘cruel to politicians’. This is my guarantee to you: That’s going to continue. Have a good day x

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