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Nixon

For some, the concept of the political plot is a fetish. Most of those who hold such an obsession are outside professional or even voluntary politics: the conspiracy theorists, who join imaginary dots to justify their prejudices; the fantasists, who like to imagine there is a silver bullet truth which, if only it were to be revealed, would bring about their desired goals; and the desperate ideologues, who prefer to blame the defeat of their beliefs on sinister forces rather than face up to the shortcomings of their own side.

They can be irritating, amusing and troubling in equal measure. But they are as nothing compared to the much rarer instances of a plot fetishist inside politics.

Most people – be they party workers, advisers, candidates or politicians themselves have no time for either the theory or practice of plotting. For a start, they know that political or state machines simply aren’t competent enough to come up with and successfully carry out Machiavellian schemes. The truth is that successful politics is really a gruelling process of hard work, endless rebuttal, detailed scrutiny and a lot of shoe leather. The idea of a Baldrick-like “cunning plan” which can shortcut that reality is a siren, a deceptive fantasy which only really leads to disaster.

But some still try it, from time to time. Most famously Nixon had Watergate, and there are from time to time instances of grubby attempts to win by bypassing real, straightforward politics. Those involved tend to be overly convinced of their own inteligence, and willing to gamble everything at madcap odds of success for comparatively little likely gain. It’s illogical and narcissistic – that’s why it’s a fetish rather than a strategy.

The revelations about Afzal Amin in today’s press appear to be such a case. If the allegations are true – and the transcripts we’ve seen so far are extremely damning – then he indulged in a disgusting attempt to treat with a fascist, racist organisation in order to whip up fear, allowing himself to ride in as the welcome saviour.

It’s typical of the weird (and happily rare) trend of such plots – absurdly complex, reliant on the involvement of people who are at best unpleasant and unreliable (as the recording of the conversations shows), immoral and, ultimately, not even necessary. It’s notable that Amin is reported to have bragged to the EDL representatives about how certain he was of victory in May – if that was so, why did he feel the need to pursue such a sickening deal in the first place?

The answer seems to be ego. The plotter, typically, is convinced of their own genius – and is also conspicuously short of exactly that quality.

For that reason, plots tend to be exposed before they even have a chance to fail. Their chief victims are not the participants, disgraced though they are. The real tragedy is for the rest of those who dedicate their time to democratic politics – the hundreds of thousands of ordinary people who give up their time, risk their fingertips in each letterbox and put in the hard years to honestly promote those things which they ardently believe. Unlike those who undermine them, their work will never get front page attention in a national newspaper – if Amin is guilty, that should be added to his charge sheet.

27 comments for: Political plots are, happily, rare – but their damage is vast

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