You don’t have to be dumb to become a politician but…
This Green and Strangely Pleasant Land - politics
Politicians do not have an exclusive franchise on stupidity but they have a habit of fuelling the idea that being a politician is synonymous with stupidity.
Anyone searching for examples of political stupidity is spoilt for choice. Take the Conservative Party Deputy Chairman Lee Anderson who revels in his ability to tell it like it is and has proved to be a serial idiot. A week before declaring that he would exile himself to the Orkney Islands if Brexit were to be reversed (an issue barely on anyone’s agenda) he was calling for asylum seekers to be sent there if the government could not ship them off to Rwanda. It is unclear where his unhealthy interest in Orkney’s comes from but there is not a scintilla of evidence that the islanders are gagging for his presence in their midst. Nor is it vaguely credible that these small communities with limited infrastructure would be the best place to house refugees seeking residence in the UK.
However Mr Anderson, is entirely unconcerned about trifling details as he is relentlessly focused on self-promotion, appealing to a section of his party for whom extremism is their happy place. In this sense Mr Anderson may not be stupid but possessed of rat-like cunning which could be beneficial to his career.
A quick glance across the Atlantic reveals that he is a mere amateur in the stupidity stakes compared with Congressman George Santos, a serial fantasist, liar and apparently embezzler. He has finally been thrown out of the House of Representatives to a chorus of regret from fellow Republicans who see no reason why any of this should bar him from high office. As a dedicated enemy of irony, Mr Santos has declared that he is a severely wronged hero who will be fighting on.
There are rich pickings in the stupidity stakes to be had from politicians in every single corner of the globe. Moreover stupidity is hardly a recent development, all that has changed is the speed of communications making revelations of stupidity more accessible.
The wonder is not that so many politicians are stupid or delusional, but that so many are sane and even committed to the higher causes of politics.
The presence of decent human beings among the political class is all the more surprising when you consider the process entailed in seeking election. In America the obstacles to political office often begin and end with access to funds. Getting elected is a very expensive business, most suited to those with a lot of money or those who can convince backers that they will benefit from their generosity.
Less money pulsates through the British election process but the reality is that politicians are largely dependent on selection by a very small coterie of party members because almost everyone entering parliament does so on the back of a party ticket.
It is a fact of life that political activists tend to be odd, confirmed by an other-worldly interest in politics that is hardly shared by most other people.
This is not necessarily a bad thing but it does mean that those selecting candidates tend to be attracted by their own kind. Being intelligent is often less important than being someone whose loyalty to the party can be relied upon. Being capable slides down the list of requirements compared with an ability to gladhand and know how to work the system. In other words selection is not based on a choice of the brightest and the best.
Those aspiring to election must be very prepared for rejection and all manner of humiliations in order to gain support. A candidate must learn to smile and nod sympathetically when confronted with selectors who can bore for Britain and have bad breath. They must tread the streets in all kinds of inclement weather (i.e. British weather) and they must be prepared to be apart from their families for long stretches of time, a boon for some, not so much for others.
The point is that the very process of climbing the greasy political pole can be arduous and unpleasant but it’s a pole eagerly climbed by egoists, the power hungry and the otherwise unemployable in relatively well paid and respectable jobs.
The real problems emerge when politicians get to the top of the pole and start enjoying the many benefits of high office. At this point hubris looms large, combined with a baffling level of self-confidence. Those who never previously manifested extreme levels of stupidity start to do so in alarming ways that end up ruining citizen’s lives.
There is a particular British twist to this tale involving an intelligent person pretending to be something of an idiot, making himself into a loveable character with many foibles and fantasies over implausible projects. Even a difficult relationship with the truth is forgiven on grounds that the rogue is somehow a real man of the people. That character has a name: Boris Johnson.