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26 October 2022

UK politics is the same thing over and over, so why do we expect different results?

I barely remember a time when politics was not this inanely stupid.

By Pippa Bailey

I believe there was a time – believe it in that way that you might believe in King Arthur, or God: not because you have seen evidence of it yourself, but because you have always been told it was true – when British politics was, if not better, then vaguely functional. I am not so naive as to think the UK was once a green and pleasant land where the Commons was alive with the sound of harmony, and schoolchildren were allowed to keep their milk (I was, after all, raised by a Mancunian for whom Margaret Thatcher was She Who Must Not Be Named).

But there was, I am told, a time when even if you didn’t like a politician’s politics, you could rely on them to know their brief, stick around for longer than my first boyfriend did, and make sure that when they did shag around, they at least didn’t do it in full sight of CCTV cameras. Sure, they might have invaded Iraq, but they introduced the national minimum wage, too.

I remember my mother, who was a state-school teacher for nearly 40 years, complaining of how difficult it was to focus on what really mattered when the education minister changed – and tore up the curriculum – every five or so years. Now, five years seems a commendable feat. The rotating door of Tory ministers is spinning so fast that I have lost not only my balance but all sense of time and space. At one point Boris Johnson was said to be consulting with Take That about his comeback and the people of Twitter were calling for a lettuce to be made prime minister. These are, we keep being told, unprecedented times.

But to me they feel distinctly ordinary, unsurprising – precedented, even. I barely remember a time when politics was not this inanely stupid. The first general election in which I was old enough to vote was 2010 (we took bets in my A-level politics class, using Haribo in place of cash, on who would ally with whom to form a government in a hung parliament). My very first vote, the year I started university, went to the party whose leader went on to betray students over tuition fees. What hope did I have of expecting better?

Next up: austerity, the Brexit referendum, Article 50, the backstop, leather trousers, lying to the queen, Covid, Cummings, handsy Hancock, PPE, partygate, the mother of all mini-Budgets, four chancellors in four months, five prime ministers in six years… This has been British politics for my entire adult life. Consider me unshockable.

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When I was a baby journalist in 2013, I was dispatched to the Royal Courts of Justice for an east London news website. I was there to cover the (ultimately unsuccessful) government appeal against an earlier ruling that its health secretary’s downgrade of A&E and maternity services at Lewisham Hospital was unlawful. That health secretary? Jeremy Hunt. To the local campaigners (and many others besides), to whom – and to whose cause – I became quite attached, Hunt was the epitome of Cameron’s callous government.

It says something about the depths of insanity to which we have sunk that this is the man now touted by journalists as a “safe pair of hands”; that I would feel something like relief to call prime minister a man whose surname I once relished finding rhymes for. Or I would, only it has been a long time since I felt despair or panic or outrage or shame, or really anything at all, in response to the never-ending nightmare on Downing Street.

What is it they say – that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? Perhaps Einstein had the Tory leadership circus in mind. In theory, the maxim doesn’t apply to online dating, which is supposedly a numbers game: the more people you meet, the more likely you are to meet someone who doesn’t a) make you rush home for a shower to wash the crawlies from your skin, or b) make you cry in the loos at work when you receive his rejection text. And yet, insane I am beginning to feel.

The journalist Frankie Graddon, who met her husband on Tinder, once said that her method was indiscriminately swiping right on every man who didn’t “immediately look nuts” to maximise her chances. Perhaps I am being overly fussy and narrowing the field too early, but I barely have time for the admin of it all as it is.

I have reached a point where, when a colleague or friend asks me the name of the man I’m going on a date with that evening, it takes me just a little too long to recall it – though it doesn’t aid my memory that they’re all called Chris or Tom or Dan. Never Jeremy, though.

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This article appears in the 26 Oct 2022 issue of the New Statesman, State of Disorder