I’ve got a soft spot for MPs

With this election being forced down our throats in an unprecedented number of ways - TV, Twitter, unusually open newspaper bias - we're finally seeing the truth about politicians. Just as we suspected, they are self-serving egoists, desperate for our approval.

Or they are rock stars, tapping in to the biggest audience politics has ever had in the UK. So that's the truth: politicians are the worst/most important people in the world (delete depending on your perspective).

I'd like to suggest a third way, based on my recent experiences (an appearance on Newsnight; topical radio shows; meeting a Tory candidate at a party; and a series of Twitter exchanges with MPs), which is that politicians are alarmingly normal. I've come to think that the truly dark secret about politicians is not that they're corrupt (some, sure, but not most), or power-crazed, or distanced from reality, but simply that they're more like the rest of us than we care to think.

Knowing that I was going to meet MPs on Newsnight, I was braced for slanging matches, giant egos and vulgar displays of public-money-wastage. But throughout, they did ordinary things such as worrying if their socks were the wrong colour and sending texts. I'm almost sure I saw one of them eat a sandwich. Much is made of the idea that MPs are "desperate to appear like ordinary people". What if they are ordinary people?

Yes, politicians might get into politics for reasons of self-advancement, but which of us doesn't do our job for that reason? Some jobs - nurses, the selfless people who make ice cream - bear more responsibility than others, but it seems odd to criticise people for being ambitious. Would you want people in charge of the country who weren't ? People who said things like "our economy will suffer hugely if we don't pump more money in straight away... but on the other hand, I've got a holiday booked at Center Parcs, so let's just see how it pans out"?

And yes, politicians may come across as desperate to court your favour, but who isn't? I recently took a call from my mobile phone company, which began with the stranger on the other end saying: "Hi there, Mark! So, what's on this evening - a few pints?" Perhaps, I thought, but I believe you've exceeded your remit as the company that charges me for my text messages.

Maybe it's the sense of kinship I got watching the frightened faces of the leaders about to embark on the gig-of-a-lifetime in the first debate, maybe it's the shaving cuts I saw on Chris Huhne's face, but I'm warming to politicians. They're doing a job that is virtually impossible and which few of us, if we're honest, could do much better.

Some of them may be corrupt or incompetent, but who would happily be judged by the worst people in their field? They are human beings who ride bikes, eat cereal and hope for the best. Let them have their moment. In three months we'll have gone back to not caring, anyway.

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 03 May 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Danger