It's very, very difficult to feel sorry for George Osborne or Theresa May, or indeed any politician who puts themselves up for a photo opportunity that backfires. But I did feel a tiny twinge of sympathy when the boos rang out in the Olympic Stadium as they handed out the medals. Having sought to bask in the reflected glory of the Paralympics, they may as well have had custard pies lobbed in their faces. Excruciating. But the sympathy wore off pretty quickly, and it seemed to be quite a significant moment for UK politics.
Respect and trust aren't brand values. They aren't things that can be demanded nor declared, they must be earned. The real and genuine crisis that face politics in the UK is that people, by and large, have absolutely no respect for politicians or trust in the political process. Yougov polling from earlier this year had 62% of people agreeing with the statement: "Politicians tell lies all the time - you can't believe a word they say."
This exposes what I think is at the heart of the current apathy crisis. Boris Johnson is so popular because people see him as honest and fallible. When asked if he'd taken drugs he he openly admitted using cocaine. About marijuana he said: "It was jolly nice. But apparently it is very different these days. Much stronger. I've become very illiberal about it. I don't want my kids to take drugs." Which, I reckon, is a not uncommon sentiment among parents.
Contrast that with Ed Miliband on striking unions , Chloe Smith's harrowing mauling at the hands of Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight and one of my personal favourite broadcast disasters, Francis Maude having an absolute shocker about volunteering while plugging the Big Society on the Today Programme and you see a striking common theme - politicians seemingly terrified of telling the truth.
Imagine a parallel universe where Maude had said "like many people, I don't do enough, and I plan to change this immediately" or If Ed had mixed the soundbites up a bit. Or if Chloe Smith had said "No I didn't know about it, but I fully support it." It may have been embarrassing in the short term but at least it would have taken the wind out of the interviewers sails. Indeed, they may actually have sounded like normal, genuine human beings which could actually (whisper it) make voters like, trust and even respect them.
In view of all this it was interesting to read about the launch of Democracy 2015. In an impassioned launch piece in The Independent, Andreas Whittam Smith talks about a "despair in the system" and announces a project to get members of the public to stand for office.
It's a fascinating and potentially hugely important project, and it's exciting to think of the impact it could have if it all comes together. It looks like a huge undertaking, and certainly a challenging one in terms of getting the right people in the right places to mount a genuine challenge to the existing parties. If it works, though, it could have the power to rehabilitate our democracy, and boy, does it need it.
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