in Politics

The political insult (and me)

Best political compliments

My earlier post about chugging made me think that I have been attracting a few insults lately. I’m not sure if this is a good or a bad thing. As Wilde said “the only thing worse than being talked about it not being talked about.”

It certainly makes me wonder what it is over the past year or so that means I’ve collected so many more. Perhaps I just wasn’t that interesting before, or maybe it’s a degree of forgetfulness. The only one I remember prior to 2008 was Tony Belton calling me “incendiary and ambitious” in a letter to the Wandsworth Borough News when I was Health Chairman on the council (sometime between 2003 and 2006). And I’m not sure if that was an insult or not, I remember it more because I thought it made me sound like Johnny Storm than because I took offence.

You might think it’s odd that I care about such a thing, but I know there are people who do not agree with me on most, if not all, things. After all, you only need check the 2006 Wandsworth election results to see there were probably 1,500 or so or so who liked the other candidates more and around 7,000 who just couldn’t work up the enthusiasm to vote either for or against me. Once you accept that you are not, and cannot be, universally popular the insult is nothing more than another dimension to that. I accept it in exactly the same way as I accept people’s democratic right to vote for other candidates.

So, while it is perverse, I rather like that Tony Belton called me “Stalinist” during a committee meeting recently. And was tickled to hear that another Labour candidate suggested to a colleague that I was a “combination of the worst parts of Shirley Porter and Ceauşescu.” That sort of comment shows real imagination and a knowledge of both local government and international history. It invites people to decide exactly which is the worst part of either of them and I become a sort of Room 101 politician made from a buffet of negative political characteristics.

And while it wasn’t as imaginative, to be at a conference (on improving confidence in the police) and hear from someone that “abhors every word James Cousins utters” shows that, at least, they have heard of me. Although the unintended flattery was lost when I found myself sat next to the person who said it and not only have to introduce myself but also explain who I was.

So why do I appreciate the insults more than the plaudits? A Google for “best political insults” produces 10,500 results. Searching for “best political compliments” returns a meagre 2! Clearly something in our psyche that prefers to use, or perhaps to hear, the negatives of opponents rather than the positives of our side.

It is, perhaps, the return of politics. Since 1990 politics seem to have been far more about who would be the best (or at least, less sleazy) managers of the country. It seems the best bon mots come from times when there was a real political divide and debate about the country. So, for example, while you can find lots about Thatcher, Major gets off quite lightly with a general satire of him as a grey man. My particular favourite comes from a time when two huge characters dominated the political stage, and Disraeli commented of Gladstone: “He has not one single redeeming defect.”

Now we are in the longest recession ever and facing a massive public debt crisis perhaps the lines between parties are becoming clearer. Maybe those involved in politics feel the need, or feel freer, to try to encapsulate the differences. And perhaps, because they highlight the differences if I were I to have a selection of plaudits on the blog – as some do – I’d include those above, in fact, I’d probably just use them and nothing else.

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