Political branding

Dealing with politicians is a troublesome business. The psychological impulses that create and define your average politico are inherently hard to control. And given our quirky little political structure, it’s not like we can hold them to any sort of meaningful account. It makes little sense, however, to get particularly angry about such a situation. Politicians are like Mr Muscle: a geeky-image-driven product that deals with the jobs that, as a society, we believe we have better things to do than worry about. And you’d feel a little silly shouting at a kitchen-cleaner.

It’s not the best analogy, I grant you. Mr Muscle is well-equipped for the task in hand and doesn’t have an inflated sense of his (its?) importance. But then the slogan, like politics, isn’t based around competence and self-realisation.

Assuming we can’t replace our vapid mountebanks with an altogether superior class of wise and noble leaders, we should rather seek (or perhaps merely hope) to do what we can to lessen the zeal with which the more unsightly and unpalatable aspects of a politician’s ruling urges are played out.

It occurs to me that a large part of the troubles politicians cause can be more or less directly related to their vanity. They seek the job as an end in itself, a curious sort of status symbol, and as ‘evidence’ of their unfailing correctness. In the sheltered insider world of politics, this vanity, rather than being checked, is nurtured, and nurtured well.

The ideal solution would be to crush these invidious vanities before they got a chance to suckle on the fat pig of power; or perhaps to emaciate the pig itself. Unfortunately, idealism and politics don’t mix well. So instead we need a tougher solution; a venal, in-your-face and above all simple solution that acts as a counter to the vain ways of the corridors of power. And I think I have just the thing.

It wouldn’t be perfect, of course, but it could be both amusing and publicly beneficent. It is this: upon becoming an elected representative, be it a councillor, an AM, an MP or whatever else, the successful candidate should be appropriately branded, prominently, on the forehead, with a disfiguring and garishly-coloured mark indicating what it is that they have chosen to do. Bonus marks would be used to indicate extra-importance, like being a junior minister or a member of the cabinet.

Ideally these marks would fade after a given time period, to forgive youthful indiscretions, but we can’t complain too much if such a thing is impossible.

The elected types most likely to get a bit carried away once in office are those that seek at every turn to flatter their own vanity above all else. By removing (or rather negating) this, we can look forward to an altogether brighter future. Outside of certain special places in Camden Town, a job that comes complete with facial mutilation becomes less of an end in itself, and more an occupational hazard that concentrates the mind on the actual stuff to be done.

The astute among you will automatically see a few problems with a branding programme. As an off-putting gesture, branding could scare off potentially useful candidates. Yet given the vast, unbridgeable chasm between the qualities needed to get elected and the qualities to do the job well, most of these people (not all) eschew the scene already. This is a major problem, but an insoluble one, and not one that would be at all exacerbated by a spot of hot-iron action.

Of more concern is the idea that my proposal could lead to an increase in the proportion of politicians from the ‘evangelical’ grouping: those that see it as their purpose to impose their good intentions on the rest of us, lest we look like we’re having too much fun. These are the people of such poor taste and such delusional belief in their ability (and often even their obligation to make the world a better place) that the scheme may even backfire: they may even aspire to having their foreheads mutilated.

This is disturbingly possible. However, it is my contention that evangelicalism is based upon a deeper vanity, and these people would thus spend more time calling for the abolition of the branding process than they would getting into power and calling for the abolition of smiling. Failing that, we could be in trouble. A trial period is probably the best way round this.

There is another possible drawback, in that more of these disturbed souls will be driven out of the democratic domain, and into quangos, and other bodies with the power to waste public money.

Again, this is probable. However, the branded ones are unlikely to keep giving power away to institutions whose employees can walk around with socially-acceptable brows. Jealousy would see to that. Power in such institutions would therefore wane.

These drawbacks are real, but they are not insurmountable, nor are they any more publicly pernicious than the current canyon of calamities.

In my humble opinion, it is certainly worth a try.

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