The Unshuffled and the New Cycle of Political Disillusion

The Unshuffled and the New Cycle of Political Disillusion

The education secretary had to be dismissed. His unpopularity was simply unsustainable. Gove and Lansley had done the dirty work of overseeing unpopular ideological reform. Now that they've absorbed more than their fair share of the public's animosity they can be safely disposed of like damp kitchen roll. It's time to usher in a few faces form the opposite sex for the pre-election team photo, to most people these new editions will be difficult to recognise which means they will also be difficult to dislike and without much major policy to push though between now and May 2015, they are unlikely to attract any public resentment.

So will the clear out make much of a difference? I doubt that it will. It may be embarrassing to repeatedly endure PMQs flanked by a hoard of white middle-aged men, but most voters don't even watch it. In fact the majority of the British public are probably only familiar with a handful of political faces. Among them are Cameron, Clegg and Milliband. Aside from representing something of a demographic deficit, this cast is stale. Cameron has been the tory leader for the last nine years. Clegg has been the leader of the Liberal Democrats for seven years and Miliband has watched them govern for four years. All of these men fail to muster public enthusiasm, not because of their homogeneity but because we've simply seen too much of them.

In America, political parties rally mass support around a personality every four years and they are selected the same year as the election, which gives them a chance to quickly paint themselves as fresh and relevant. But this doesn't always work. When they've acted as a main character on the political stage for too long (Al Gore, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney) they lose. Yet, when an extra wonders into the spotlight (Bill Clinton, Barack Obama) they can to do pretty well, at least until they are actually presented with the day to day challenges of the Oval Office.

Chris Christie should have run in 2008 when he was one of the most popular republicans in America, but he held off and now he is stained by the infamous 'bridge-gate' scandal. Meanwhile, the longer Hillary Clinton lingers in the public eye the more reasons she gives voters to be sceptical about her sincerity. She has been heavily criticised in the last few weeks for exaggerating her supposed financial troubles while making eye-watering sums by giving speeches to Goldman Sachs. In a recent interview promoting her new book, she complained that when the Clintons left the White House they were "dead broke" saying that they "struggled to piece together the resources for mortgages for houses."

A note to anyone and everyone trying to survive as a politician: if you don't want to be considered as being out of touch and you're worried about accommodation; always use the singular and never the plural. The electorate will always forgive you for needing a house, but just one.

Herein lies the problem; a political life is not a normal life and once people are perceived to have lost a grip on normality, it's always hard for them to come back. They must constantly try to appease almost everybody in every statement while living in an abnormal social bubble. All the while they must pretend to be a human being as they stumble across on the most intense media landscape imaginable. Everyday they spend in a high profile position naturally erodes their perceived normality. But they are human. They are too human for the public to bare. Humans make mistakes, we all have the capacity to be greedy, unreliable and, occasionally, just plain wrong. Yet, there is a small window that every politician is briefly afforded in which the public will give them the benefit of the doubt and regard them as normal. If you're lucky, it might last for a few years. That is the time to be ambitious and strike while the ire is cool.

The main characters on the Westminster stage are tired and unpopular. Meanwhile the political parties they represent are rendered universally disapproved of throughout the country. (How many local lib dems have lost their jobs because of Clegg's desolate public appeal?) If Gordon Brown had called an election in 2007 (or in 2009, four years after the previous one) and we hadn't introduced fixed-term parliaments, then we could conceivably have had three completely have had three different party leaders by now. And one of them might even be popular enough to garner tangible public support.

Instead there will be at least one new party leader elected after the next election and by the time said leader stands in the 2020 general election, he or she will have been lucky to be regarded with anything as good as mild public disappointment.


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