The general election had barely been announced before insults were being flung from one political party to another, and one which spectacularly backfired came from the current foreign secretary, Boris Johnson who described Jeremy Corbyn as a “mutton-headed old mugwump” referring to the latter’s views on national defence.
The word ‘mugwump’ sounds like a description of a Harry Potter creation and in actual fact it is, referring to members of a confederation of wizards, including characters like Albus Dumbledore. Although it’s pretty obvious that Boris didn’t intend to label Corbyn as a wizard, or to mean Corbyn was like a ‘boss’ if you take a Native American definition of the term, rather, Boris used the term to insult the leader of the opposition.
When the story broke, I felt myself groan, along with I am sure many others. If this was an example of how the 2017 general election was going to begin, I wondered what the rest of the campaigning was going to look like.
Will we actually hear election pledges or just a bunch of playground insults?
There are certainly far worse pejorative terms that could be flung at politicians, but the mud-slinging is not only annoying but it also trivialises many elements of the democratic process, steering people away from looking further at policies proposed.
Soon after qualifying as a teacher and before I started my first job, I completed some work experience in London working at the Palace of Westminster. I was lucky to be based right within the belly of the House of Commons assisting an education outreach group. Although most of the work took place behind closed doors working with secretary’s for various MPs, I was granted some freedom to wander the corridors of Westminster with other recently qualified teachers. We also managed to view some debates from the public gallery of the House of Commons. I was, at the time, a complete politics geek so you can probably imagine my excitement of being in the thick of it all.
In the years since my work in London, my active political engagement and enthusiasm has waned. In all honesty, I lost interest in some of the comings and goings of British politics to the point that I didn’t even bother voting in the previous two general elections. I simply couldn’t recognise in those standing for election aspects that I could believe in. One only has to take a brief look at a news clip of a debate within the House of Commons itself, particularly when the house is full to see what I mean. I completely understand and endorse the need for debate but when that consists of shouting over one another along with offensive jeering and sneering along with the occasional xenophobic and sexist remark thrown in, it becomes more like a disturbing carnival sideshow than anything politically driven.
But then that’s the point, politics often operates like a carnival side-show. Those who can shout the loudest or say something controversial are generally going to be heard first. And of course, politicians don’t operate in a bubble, the media choose what to report and how.
But as a teacher, I wouldn’t tolerate this in the classroom or in the ‘average’ workplace, so why does it occur so freely within the political sphere?
In the past year or so I have tried to address my own lack of interest, particularly since the Brexit vote (in which I did vote) but Johnson’s recent ‘mugwump’ comments have reminded me of how frustrating and childish (British) politics/politicians can be*.
I want to hear clear policies and genuine intentions, not backbiting. But then if you can distract the press and the public by throwing stones and insults, it means that there is less focus on the policies themselves, as they may well be shit.
* Obviously, the British are not isolated in this, you only need to look across the Atlantic ocean.