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Greasy Pole: Pornography and Politics

Greasy Pole

Kenneth Clarke was a Front Bench star in the Thatcher and Major governments – Home Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer and all that – but he has now decided that he does not like the members of his own party. A lot of them, he complains, are elderly people who never attend meetings and vote after reading the Daily Telegraph – as if that kind of political self-instruction had not always been worth a hat full of Tory votes. One of Clarke's aides – Nick Kent – has been more explicit in his dislike of the Tory grass roots: "nasty old people" was his description of the party faithful (who) "cannot be reasoned with". These outbursts are not accidents; they have been provoked by those nasty geriatrics electing Iain Duncan Smith to the Tory leadership in preference to Clarke and to the fact that Clarke now senses the time has come for him to make another bid for the top job – which cannot be unconnected with a dawning awareness in the party that by choosing Duncan Smith they made a mistake of historic stupidity.

The reasons for Duncan Smith's victory will be a field for endless analysis, which is probably only waiting for the Tories to lose the next election as decisively as they lost the last one. Perhaps it was in reaction against William Hague, who was notable for what Nick Kent called "a teenage cocktail of tabloid populism and raving anti-Europeanism". Perhaps it was because, although Duncan Smith had upset quite a few people (like John Major) in the party he had done so for what they considered the right reasons, in contrast to Clarke and Portillo. Perhaps they simply took to Duncan Smith's soldierly stiff upper lip, his smart suits, his background as an officer in the Guards. They must have forgotten that political leaders are not elected to be well-mannered and expensively dressed. What leaders must be good at is telling lies, twisting arms, blackmailing their supporters, convincing the electorate that a calamitous past was not their fault.

Retreat
Some months after he got the job, Duncan Smith is plainly failing to turn his party round. He is in deep trouble, with political correspondents openly musing on the likelihood that at the next election the Tories will be reduced the third ranking party, behind the Lib Dems. So Duncan Smith should be looking over his shoulder, organising his retreat, setting up his rearguard or whatever it is they do in the Guards at such times. And to make things a little more difficult there is Clarke in pursuit, declaring that he is reconsidering his refusal to accept a shadow post under Duncan Smith: "Never say never in politics" he said, " It depends what job and depends on what he (Duncan Smith) expects me to say about the policy of the party". It might be asked, how Clarke reconciles this with his previous assessment of Duncan Smith as a "status quo" politician, one of the "headbangers" on the issue of Europe, who would send the party into a "lurch to the right". Politicians are of course skilled at forgetting their former declarations of immutable principle if it will help them get into power. Clarke is not offering to support his leader but to line himself up for the leadership if, with a little help from Clarke, Duncan Smith should be ousted.

Clarke will have learned from history that it will not be that simple, that there will be other hopefuls sharpening their knives, a few of them – like the oily, odious Michael Howard – already well known. Other possible candidates will have to work a bit harder to get themselves known but so did Margaret Thatcher when she beat Ted Heath in 1975, when few people expected a woman to come through to lead the Tory Party, especially one who had been jeered at in the media as the minister who snatched away the schoolkids' free milk. So step forward, as they say in the gutter press, Theresa May, who sits for the lush Thames-side seat of Maidenhead. It is apparent that she is being groomed for stardom, if that is how to describe being leader of this political rabble. Her publicity drive may or may not be assisted by her having a name very close to that of a celebrated queen of porn. Get onto the internet and search for Teresa (no h) May and you will be viewing some lurid, unreal images of a female who does not appear to be taking part in a dreary Commons debate. As a result Theresa (with the h) May has been invited to participate in some raunchy TV programmes and has received some pretty forthright correspondence meant for her near-namesake. A typical letter " . . . asked (her) to expose herself in public, to do things with men that most of us wouldn't consider in the privacy of our own homes, and to force herself into weird, unnatural positions for the camera".

Porn Queen
This raises a few questions. How justified is the outrage at being confused with a porn queen and at Teresa May's way of earning her living? One thing which can be said is that she is perfectly open about what she does, which is some way better than politicians who, if they are at all interested in hanging on to their job, cannot be honest about their work. If they were honest they would have to own up to a persistent catalogue of deception and failure and in the end to their own inability to control, or even affect, the social system which they claim to be able to fashion to our benefit. And what, after all, can we name as pornography and who are the pornographers?

Theresa May is the daughter of a clergyman. She went to Oxford (like Thatcher) then worked in a bank. Her ambitions were clear early on; she was a councillor in Merton, had to go through the mill of contesting some hopelessly solid Labour seats, like North West Durham in 1992 and Barking in a 1994 by-election before, against some strong opponents, she won the nomination for the rock-solid Tory seat of Maidenhead. "Very bright, hyperactive and witty" was how Andrew Roth described her in the Guardian. "Sloane with City flash" was another's less kind assessment. The parallels between her and Thatcher have been noted; a Eurosceptic, she may see her road to power in carrying on where the mad handbagger left off. In the Tory leadership fight in 2001 she was careful not to be too prominent about her support for Portillo. In any case Duncan Smith did not hold this against her and gave her the shadow job of Transport and Local Government, belabouring the hapless, floundering Stephen Byers.

Bearing in mind that one function of the pornographer is the selling of talents for questionable purpose, how do we assess Theresa May? What does this supposedly vibrant and capable woman have to offer about this society and what it does to people? So far her comments have been preoccupied with blaming the Labour government for policies which are simply a continuation of what the Tories did when they were in power. On 7 November she spoke out about the government's suggestion that people might be encouraged to vote if it was made easier for them, by having polling booths in places like supermarkets. Her comments were less than original. The way to get people to vote was not, she said, by "inventing new electoral systems or new types of politicians . . .The underlying cause of voter apathy is growing cynicism with the political process . . ." This banality does not even approach the question of why voters should be cynical. One obvious reason is that experience of a Labour government has made it clear to thousands of people that there is no difference worth influencing a vote between the big parties. People who voted Labour in 1997 under the impression that they were opting for social change are now realising that they were wrong but they have no idea of any other way. That is the root of their cynicism.

Bombs and Poverty
There is a kind of pornography in this social system, which has nothing to do with a few women being paid to perform a variety of sexual acts for the entertainment of others. The kind of socially organised, premeditated state violence that has devastated the wretched country of Afghanistan in the interests of the oil industry is a kind of pornography; it excites all manner of morbid responses which are stimulated and exploited by political pornographers like Blair and Bush. It is a kind of pornography that in this country, which our leaders assure us is a model of civilised advancement, a third of the children live below the official poverty line. It is a kind of pornography that voters should be cynical about the political system when they have the power to use it to transform society, to liberate the human race into a society based on human needs.

Meanwhile we are left with the same dreary procession of impotent leaders who tell us, one after the other, that the way forward is to hand over to them our power to change society so that they can keep it as it is. Major for Thatcher; Hague for Major; Duncan Smith for Hague; perhaps one day May for Duncan Smith. And that is just the Tory Party. The other Teresa May, and those who do the same work, do far less damage.