Partisan political attacks have always incorporated a degree of hysteria. It is not enough for an opponent to be wrong or misguided, he or she must be evil or cruel or stupid or all three and worse.
For decades, in Scotland, this caricature of public servants as malign plotters has predominantly been applied to representatives of the Conservative Party. Successfully othered by Labour, the Tories ended up in the political wilderness, with those who insisted on continuing to support them (and there were always more of them than the popular narrative of Scotland as a Tory-free zone suggested) urged to feel shame. How could anyone even consider lending these monsters their vote?
I’ve never been comfortable with this approach to political debate, regardless of the party on the receiving end. A sceptic rather than a cynic, I’ve always believed that most people who enter public life do so with the best intentions. And meeting countless people from across the political spectrum during a 30-year career in journalism did little to shake that view.
I’ve met and interviewed politicians from the left to the right and all points in between and, for the most part, found them to be people of integrity. I may have thought them wrong on any number of issues but I’ve rarely had reason to doubt the sincerity of their desire to serve.
Now? Now I’m not so sure.
We have fully entered into the era of the fraud and the shyster. Self-interested shits dominate our politics, pushing policies marked out by their cruelty, acting in the interests of the wealthy and the bigoted and ignoring the best interests of those they serve.
Last Sunday, Brexit Secretary David Davis quit Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet just two days after he and his fellow Brexiteers appeared to sign up to a negotiating position on the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU that sought to mitigate some of the damage his obsession with “sovereignty” is going to cause our economy.
To the wing-nuts and racists who believe that only the hardest possible Brexit – “Brexit me ’til I break, baby” – will do, this was an act of principle by a man standing up for what he believed in.
The truth is that Davis, in common with every extremist politician who pushed for the UK to leave the EU, has no idea how to make his dream work. He had two years in post to come up with something and he failed. His resignation was not an act of principle but an act of cowardice. He is a rat fleeing the ship he helped sink.
A day later, it was Boris Johnson’s turn to stand up for what he believed in. Another charlatan, he too has failed over the past two years to come up with anything that might make Brexit a success.
We shouldn’t be surprised by Johnson’s failure – after all, his decision to join the Leave campaign wasn’t driven by belief in what was best for the country but by his cynical calculation that it would leave him in the strongest possible position to become the next Prime Minister of the UK.
This huckster, this lowlife snake-oil salesman, even lied in his resignation letter, claiming entirely erroneously that the EU had prevented him making the roads safer for cyclists while he was Mayor of London. Johnson is every bit as much the end-of-the-pier conman as his great admirer and chum, Donald Trump.
Dig deeper into the shit-heap of British public life and we find Tory backbencher, Jacob Rees-Mogg, a dangerous reactionary ideologue disguised as Christopher Robin.
Rees-Mogg and his colleagues on the European Research Group – the modern incarnation of the Tory Eurosceptics once described by the rather decent former Tory leader, John Major, as “bastards” – are the bullies of the piece. If the Prime Minister doesn’t push the button on a hard Brexit, no matter the consequences, then these nasty little people (among whose number is a handful of Scottish MPs, elected on the coat-tails of Scottish leader Ruth Davidson and now deluded into believing they deserve to be respected as serious thinkers) will see to it that someone else does.
Rees-Mogg cares nothing about the people he sought to liberate with Brexit. And he doesn’t have to. The living embodiment of privilege, the closure of a factory in Fife or Sunderland or any of those places where funny little people do their funny little jobs, will cause Rees-Mogg no pain no matter how damaging Brexit is.
And so I turn to the Labour Party, seeking some sense and some compassion.
Instead, I find an equally disreputable bunch. Leader Jeremy Corbyn and his thuggish right-hand man John McDonnell (and if you want to understand the nature of that relationship, think of McDonnell as Keith Harris to Corbyn’s Orville) when confronted with mounting evidence that Brexit is going to hit the poorest hardest, wring their hands and tell us that Labour is obliged to respect the will of the people.
Well, yes, you might say, that’s democracy. But democracy also allows men and women of principle to stand up and argue for what is right. Democracy allows them to try to win new arguments.
If Corbyn and his cohorts can help organise massive – and entirely appropriate – protests against the revolting policies of the American president, they can also help organise protests against the hard Brexit that will further undermine communities already on their knees.
But they won’t because they don’t really support the EU. Like the hard right, the hard left puts ideology before people.
Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn – the roll call of cowards and populists who have turned the pool of public life into a sewer grows longer.
I’ve always tried to see the good in those who stand for election but I’m ashamed to admit that my default position is now that none of them should be trusted.