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Of Politics, Parties and Question Time

A Simple Guide to British Life.
Visitor’s Fact Sheet No 3: British Politics

Are the British people interested in politics?

No. They are interested in party politics.

What is the difference?

Politics is all bout life, about how society should be organised, about happiness, truth and pain. Party politics is about when Mrs Thatcher should call the next election.
But British papers are full of politics.

No, full of party politics. All the same stories are on the Benn slams Kinnock raps Thatcher sacks Ridley level. If Mrs Thatcher had to choose between the welfare of the Tory party and the welfare of the country, she would opt for the Tory party. As she has done, indeed, for the past 11 years.

But…

If we were really interested in politics, Nicholas Ridley would have been sacked a long time ago from his Trade and Industry post on the grounds he was doing nothing for trade and industry.

But…

Local government used to be a refuge from party politics, but even that now is governed by national politics, so that people vote for their local councillor on the basis of what Mr Kinnock says about the bomb.

What does Mr Kinnock say about the bomb?

Very little, He’s learning.

What is the system in Britain?

We have a two-party system, with the two parties taking it in turns to run the country.

So the voters vote for the better party?

No – they vote against the worst one, or the one they are sick of. British voters rarely vote for anything, only against things.

What is there to choose between the two parties?

Not much. The Tory party, which has been in power for 11 years, tends to be dominated by inexperienced nitwits. The Labour Party, with virtually no experience of office, is full of wise-heads. Apart from that, not a great deal of difference.

So they agree on most things?
They agree on absolutely nothing except being against the Irish bomb outrages and for the Queen Mother. The time of Parliament is taken up by the government proposing measures and the Opposition condemning them.

So when the Opposition comes to power, they withdraw all these measures and laws?

Oh, no. They never tamper with what the outgoing government has done. It’s the same, by and large, as what they would have done. Instead, they introduce their own measure.

Which are condemned by the outgoing government, no matter how good or bad they are?

You’re getting the idea.

So there is no debate at all in Parliament?

It is largely confined to Mr Kinnock asking questions that are so long that Mrs Thatcher can answer any bit of them she likes.

And what does she answer?

Nothing. She only answers the questions she hears in her own mind.

A bit like Gilbert Pinfiold?

I think she would compare it more to Joan of Arc.

So where does the real political debate take place?

On TV programmes such as Question Time, where members of the public are allowed to ask real questions of real politicians.

And what happens?

Mr Kenneth Baker leans forward to say things in such an insufferably patronising way nobody would agree with him even if he were telling the truth, while the camera cuts to a shadow minister laughing an shaking hi head in disbelief.

Is that really how Britain is run?

Oh, no. We don’t talk about the way Britain is really run.

Why is Mrs Thatcher so insistent on not surrendering sovereignty to Europe?

Because we surrendered it to America years ago.

Why are people not up in arms about this?

The British only get interested in politics if it hits their wallet – their only interest in 1992 is how it will affect the duty-free area at airports. Give away millions of pounds to British Aerospace and nobody worries. Add a couple of hundred pounds to people’s bill with the poll tax, and the nation calls for Mrs Thatcher’s blood.

When will they get it?

When she calls the next election.

When will that be?

You see, you’ve got the spirit of our politics already. Welcome to Britain!


The Independent 30th July 1990