Cheering Not Jeering Politicians

by George_East on June 18, 2014

Angela MerkelI wrote a few weeks back about how I had some sympathy with UKIP supporters in their disillusionment with the state of British politics – bland soundbites endlessly repeated by uninspiring professional politicians who seem like an alien species to most of the population.   UKIP at least, so this argument goes, seem to represent something unspun and more like people you are likely to encounter in real life, which has an obvious attraction, even if in reality there is probably no one in British politics (with the possible exception of Boris Johnson) whose image is more carefully contrived that Nigel Farage.

The level of contempt in which British politicians are held by the British public is confirmed again and again by opinion polls.   No major politician has a net positive approval rating.  Today’s Guardian ICM poll shows that Ed Miliband’s approval ratings are now so bad that they are even worse than Nick Clegg, hitherto the benchmark for disapproval.   It is safe to say that for both Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg the public’s mind is made up and it not in a good way.   Ed Miliband might have the opportunity of changing this if he becomes Prime Minister next year, but there is absolutely zero chance he will do so between now and the election.  He will remain a drag on his party and I suspect is primarily responsible for ‘weak’ being one of the words that the public most associates with Labour at the moment (see Lord Ashcroft’s recent polling).

David Cameron’s position is far better than either Ed Miliband or Nick Clegg but that does not mean he has positive approval ratings.  It is not so much that he is liked more by the public as disliked less.

Cameron has, notably, decided not to go to the World Cup.  It is not clear whether this is because he does not want to be associated with an England defeat or early exit, or whether he does not want to be accused of being out of touch with ordinary people by going on a junket to Brazil (‘out of touch’ by the way being one of the primary phrases that the public associates the Conservative Party with).  Cameron may well try to ride this bandwagon if England turn things around over the next couple of games and advance but for the moment at least we have been spared the sight of his ham-like features sitting next to Sepp Blatter or Michel Platini in the VIP box at the games.

If David Cameron was there, what do you think the reaction would be from England fans in the stadium or in the pub.  At very best they would ignore him.  More likely a picture of his mug on the big screen would elicit boos or some hearty cries of ‘fuck off Cameron’.  We all remember the resounding boos that greeted George Osborne in the Olympic Stadium in 2012.   Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg would equally elicit contemptuous reactions.   British politicians look so out of place at events like this because no one believes they are really interested in it all, it is all about the photo op and trying to ‘look normal’, a process which makes them only look more abnormal and weird still.

Yet I was in the pub on Monday for some of the Germany v Portugal game.   There was a substantial group of very loud but good natured German fans there too.    Chancellor Angela Merkel was at the game. She showed real passion when Germany scored and was notable in the VIP box as being the only person who looked remotely interested in the game.   When she first appeared on the screen, the German fans in the pub all cheered.   Yep they cheered at the sight of their head of government.   Later when the camera tracked to Merkel celebrating on of Germany’s four goals, the German fans took up a chant of ‘Merkel, Merkel, Merkel….’.   It is utterly unthinkable that such a thing would happen in reaction to a British politician.

Now I do not know what lessons there are here, if any.    Perhaps it is that Angela Merkel is a uniquely gifted politician who has somehow achieved a mother of the nation role.  Perhaps it is that her interest in the football seems (or even is) real.   Or perhaps it is because German political culture (like German football culture), is very different.  

Whatever the explanation it tends to suggest that the contempt with which British politicians are held, is not simply an inevitable consequence of 24 hour news cycles and a consequent need for message discipline.    It shows that it doesn’t have to be like it is now.  It shows that is it still possible for an established politician to be treated with real affection by her compatriots.    Don’t hold your breath for anything vaguely comparable happening here in a hurry, mind.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mike Killingworth June 18, 2014 at 4:59 pm

A peep into the future: Lord Ashcroft’s next-poll-but-one will show that English voters who are told about the Germans’ attitude towards Merkel disapprove of our own political leadership even more than everyone else.

At least UKIP are honest about the need to scrap the NHS: the coalition is simply doing it by stealth and Ed Balls hopes that they’ll have finished the job before he gets back into power…

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