I’ve been watching The Politician’s Husband, a serialised psychological thriller which presents the front bench of the parliament as iredeemably venal and treacherous. Its writer, Paula Milne, paints a picture of unalleviated scheming, betrayal and bad character which obscures most of what is really important about politics. She says what she really wanted to do is explore marriage. Politics suffers collateral damage.
Milne gives us a duplicitous former front-bencher (the titular husband) whose oldest friend, best man and political ally betrays him, catapulting his wife (the titular politician) into power. A pastiche of emasculation, the deposed husband can now only love the newly empowered wife when he perceives her to be weak. To drive the point home we find he needs his son, a vulnerable child with aspergers, as much as or more than the boy needs him. Predictably enough the increasingly estranged couple bond over the boy’s vulnerability. But their bed is unsafe, their sex life a horrifying battleground, and the husband ricochets absurdly between remorse and connivance. The only character with any integrity is the husband’s father, an academic who supplies the husband with grounded and incisive alternative viewpoints, but is otherwise inert and serving as a dramatic device to illuminate the husband’s downfall. The politician seems primarily hypnotised by power. At one point, the chief whip remarks (to the treacherous best friend, who himself has designs on the party leadership) something like “Wouldn’t it be something if we could put as much energy into solving this country’s problems as we do into feathering our own nests”. In fact it’s Paula Milne who’s abusing politics to pursue her own interests.
It’s true that politicians’ surgeries are often banal. But it’s irresponsible, because untrue and at a time when trust in politicians is exceptionally low, to claim that leading politicians (all of them, mind you – she never names a party and the implication is that politicians are homogenous in nature) care more about their own positions than they do about anything else. Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel – there are plenty of others who take the yoke of leadership because it’s their turn, their duty, and it keeps the bad ones out. While she’s busy turning people off politics – collateral damage of using it as a convenient backdrop to what is little more than a dramatisation of marital politics – Paula Milne should keep in mind that electoral engagement has never been so low.
Today’s London Evening Standard leader on UKIP’s local election gains was something like ‘Farage: voters send in the UKIP clowns’. I am kind of grateful to Nigel Farage. He’s the opposite of Milne’s characters. And though I’m certain that given enough power UKIP would ruin this country in months, I think a protest party and a protest vote is infinitely better than no vote at all. Back in 2010, the Electoral Commission briefed (in its October 2010 Factsheet on Turnout that
“Turnout at the local elections in May 2010 was 62.2%. The unusually high turnout could be explained as a result of the local elections being combined with the UK general election. Local election turnout in 2009 was 39.1%, marginally lower than the 2008 average of 39.9%.”
I don’t have figures for this election. A quick web search suggests high 20s for several councils. Which is dire.
Farage is a strange decoy politician. And yet compared to Paula Milne’s characters he looks like a winner. I could have never felt this warmth for Farage before seeing The Politician’s Husband. Of course, none of this is Paula Milne’s fault – but along with all of us, it is her problem.