Politicians aren’t normal. They’re out of touch with the real world. Like Jim Carrey’s Truman, they exist in a bubble without even realising it. These are the essential charges levelled at the political class by the media, the electorate and – in particular – UKIP (who don’t always turn out to be that normal themselves).
Often, they’re right. We do have an increasingly professionalised political class, who have the centralised power to select more people who look like themselves for advancement. The Campbell doctrine of media management – now outdated, in truth, but still depressingly popular – has produced a generation of politicos whose only attempt to “do religion” is daily observance of the commandment that you should always avoid saying anything interesting, different or provocative. Westminster lags years behind the people on essential issues like our membership of the EU, green taxation, public sector reform and immigration.
But many of the same people who complain of these problems simultaneously make them harder to solve. Puritanical to the point of hypocrisy, they promptly blast politicians for doing anything at all, without pausing to consider whether they are actually right or wrong.
Take, for example, today’s Mail on Sunday front page on Penny Mordaunt. The Under-Secretary of State in DCLG stands accused of – brace yourself for the full horror of her crimes – saying “cock” in parliament as part of a ‘fine’ imposed at a Royal Marines dinner, using a speech on the welfare of male chickens as thin cover. The supposed scandal has been uncovered because, er, Mordaunt told people about it at the Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year Awards this week.
The newspaper blasts her as ‘obscene’, and inevitably there’s a Labour MP (of whom no-one has ever heard) to obligingly condemn her for trivialising poultry issues and the chamber. (Trivialising poultry issues? Perish the thought.)
Does this really improve the nation?
For a start, knob gags are a harmless and traditional element of our language. There’s even an old joke about Churchill and Attlee in the Commons urinals. Mordaunt’s thinly-veiled pun was no different to Mrs Slocombe’s unfortunate references to her pet cat in Are You Being Served?
Furthermore, if anything making a joke like this makes Mordaunt precisely what the newspapers and the anti-politics crowd are constantly demanding: normal. How many of us can honestly say we’ve never been amused at such a pun? For every poe-faced Labour backbencher who finds it an example of insufficiently serious behaviour, I suspect there’ll be a hundred people for whom it raises at least a brief smile.
Ultimately, people need to make their minds up. Do they want a parliament of grey drones, carefully avoiding any hint of controversy to the point of shunning even a little pun, censoring themselves into boring safety or do they want a political culture of character, difference and – yes – occasional toilet humour?