Given that Slugger is mainly a platform for political debate and I am as far away from a political animal as you could possibly get, I am always rather surprised when my tuppence worth passes muster and grateful to have my writings accepted for publication. Thus far, none of my articles have had a particularly political bent and that is probably what has kept me on the right side of some of the more brutal responses. In other words, it suits me to err on the side of playing it safe. So now, although I am trying hard not to break my own rules and at the risk of being on the receiving end of some criticism, I have a question. And it is meant as a serious question for which I have no answer myself, despite it being on my radar for quite some time. The question is:
What happens to people when they get into politics?
In the past I have had some involvement with public representatives through my work as a non-executive director with one of our Health Trusts. Or before that, through my active participation in events campaigning for the rights of cancer patients and their families. In one way or another I have had the opportunity to meet people from diverse social, cultural and religious backgrounds, most of them ordinary folk like me, some of them slightly too aware of their particular standing in the world, but almost to a person, they were decent, likeable, empathetic, agreeable and polite individuals – until they entered the political arena.
It has never annoyed me enough to offer a public comment until this week, when the Joe Biden I thought I recognised as a kind, compassionate and measured man, suddenly became something altogether different. During the run-up to the US elections last year I had followed events on the other side of the pond with the detachment of an outsider and I had my own views about Donald Trump and his lack of values, integrity and everything else. But in some ways I could manage that in my head because there was no expectation that he was or could be anything else. On the other hand, I am shattered by the huge change of stance and personality from Joe Biden this week, during his statements and press conferences about Afghanistan. It is as though he has suddenly lost his humanity, or has somebody sneaked him some sort of Trump pill?
Of course, we see it in our own politicians too, both locally and across the water. There is some strange phenomenon that occurs when a politician is asked a straightforward question that they either don’t like or don’t want to give an honest answer to. It’s called evasion or telling lies and they seem to ease into it as easily as a duck entering a river. Sometimes I wonder how many people at home are screaming at their television screens, ‘Answer the ****ing question’, only in language that will not be allowed to be printed here. I know the politicians know they’re doing it. They know they know they’re doing it. So why? Man / woman up, give us credence for some intelligence and just tell us the truth. I would have a lot more respect for them if they did. Boris Johnston is a classic example of evading difficult questions or apportioning responsibility onto others – ‘This is what people want’, he frequently informs us, with that jolly manner he has honed to a fine art. Really? Not much of what he’s done with Brexit or Covid or now Afghanistan, has been what a lot of people I know, wanted.
I’ve always been convinced by Rory Stewart’s integrity and I actually think he’d have made a good prime minister. He’s left politics now and I’m glad because a part of me feels that he’d have gone the way of many of the rest of them, had he stayed in that environment for much longer. But in terms of the political decisions made regarding events of this week, he has a much greater holistic and insightful view about Afghanistan, having walked across it some years ago (recounted in his book ‘The Places in Between’). Perhaps Mr Johnston (and Mr Biden), should read it. Or better still, Jason Elliot’s travel book, ’An Unexpected Light’, which we should all read. But you don’t need to have walked across a country to have empathy with its citizens in times of direst need. You just have to see the desperation playing out in front of you on our television screens.
I am aware that there are people reading this who will be disdainful of my perceived naivety. I am not going to apologise for it because they’re probably right and I am quite naïve. Yet I’d rather be that than a person who denies the truth, manipulates situations to their own advantage, sees the world only through the eyes of political gain and has lost their moral fibre. I’ve finally had enough of it and am putting my head above the parapet. And tomorrow I will go back to writing about safer subjects where I don’t get quite so het up, but for today, well, sometimes you just need to get it off your chest.
Lynda Tavakoli’s poetry and prose are widely published.