Seán Moncrieff: Successful politics is all about the boredom
Political victory sometimes happens when everyone else is bored into submission
British prime minister Theresa May with Conservative MP James Brokenshire in the House of Commons. Amid the hysteria around her May has plodded on and remained ostensibly unflappable. File photograph: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/AFP/Getty Images
Wouldn’t you hate to be a politician? There’s the vote-for-me aspect, the annoyance of having to listen to other people’s opinions and take them seriously, and having to filter every public utterance for the possible offence it might cause. But worst of all, there’s the crushing boredom.
We tend to look back at politics as a series of crystallising moments: the fall of the Berlin wall, Nelson Mandela being released, referendums being passed, the plastic bag tax. But in between those Hollywood-esque climaxes, there are long stretches of meetings, turgid technicalities, repeating the same points over and over.
Brexit has become a classic case in point. Despite the vote and the various deadlines and extensions, Britain has repeatedly failed to leave the European Union. It’s become like Mayo trying to win an all-Ireland. And, like Mayo, they keep trying. But unlike with Mayo, admiration for this persistence seems to have long evaporated. I suspect most people in these islands and across Europe are now at the point of rolling their eyes and just wanting the UK to leave and damn the consequences.
The level-headedness supply seems to have all but dried up in Westminster
But most people aren’t politicians, and in politics, the personality traits that seem to be the most valued are a level head and a grey ability to plod on, even in the most hair-wrenchingly frustrating situations. You’d wonder where politicians – those that have them – get these traits from. Were they born that way? Is it all an act? At night do they neck back vodka and scream into their pillows? Or will they end up dying from some horrible disease, as a result of pinning back all their emotions?
The level-headedness supply seems to have all but dried up in Westminster, where all the competing and contradictory versions of Brexit and non-Brexit have been drowned out by hysterical language about vassal states and dark plots. The process is continually compared to a divorce, but it’s a divorce where one partner (Britain) is so convinced of its hotness and lovability that it can’t quite believe that the other partner is prepared to let them go. Even though they want to go.
Using the boring-and-level-headed test, many, if not most of the politicians currently serving in Westminster have demonstrated how they are not very good at politics. But in the midst of this remains Theresa May, who has never once lost the head or deviated from her bland message
Now, one can have multiple criticisms of how she’s performed so far. Once the vote was taken, she didn’t have to rush to activate article 50. She should have first tried to build up some sort of consensus in Westminster. Her red lines were stupid. She was more concerned with saving the Conservative Party. And that’s just a few of them.
Yet while all the (mostly men) were gnashing their teeth and weeping for Britannia, May has plodded on and remained ostensibly unflappable: for which she’s received mountainous lumps of abuse, mostly along the lines of her being unwilling to listen to others in her cabinet, party, parliament or country.
But if she had done that, she would have changed her mind countless times, and like Westminster, singularly failed to come to any conclusion about what to do. A lot of the criticism aimed at her is for personality traits which, in many other situations, would be seen as praiseworthy.
Yet it is depressing to consider that May’s strategy (if you can call it that) may well be based on the political truism that some ideas triumph over others, not because they are the most just or the most compelling, but simply because they outlast the others. Political victory sometimes happens when everyone else is bored into submission.