By Paul Goodman MP.
Everyone needs to do something that's easy to recognise but hard to describe. Perhaps the best description is "letting off steam". Anger and laughter are two ways of doing so, and the one is often close to the other.
Letting off steam is also linked to candour. Perhaps the funniest line in the famous "Fallty Towers" episode "The Germans" combines anger, candour and laughter - when Basil Fawlty snaps: "Who won the bloody war, then?
My friend Alan Duncan may have been joking when he said that MPs are being treated like "****" and now live "on rations". But he was also possibly angry and certainly candid - not to mention letting off steam.
The consensus seems to be that doing so in front of an "activist" prone to post videos on the net wasn't Alan's finest hour. "He should have been more careful," the chorus runs. "MPs are on duty at all times - especially senior ones. And anyway, what have they got to complain about?"
What indeed? But regardless of whether or not MPs are treated like ****, this little incident is the wave of the future. Be afraid, candidates: the next election will be the YouTube election - perhaps, we should say, the Big Brother election, or even the Basil Fawlty election.
The moment of exasperation, the frank admission, the confession of ignorance, the policy blunder, the joke better not made, the verbal slip misrepresented as racist insult, the tie or frock that on the whole is a mistake (especially if the one is worn with the other) the absent-minded removal of ear-wax, the blurting-out of the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth - all these are set to be immortalised on film and viewed on-line, for as long as human interest lasts.
They won't just be gawped at or giggled over, and texted and tweeted halfway round the world: they'll also decide the fate of constituencies - perhaps (who knows?) the entire election itself. A moment's quarter-indiscretion will be enough to swing a result - and terminate a career that's been ten, maybe twenty long years in the making.
A few candidates will survive, even flourish, in these hothouse conditions, turning the habit of saying whatever comes into their heads into a post-modern political art - like latter-day Boris Johnsons, though (on the whole) with less timing and acuity. The rest will take fright, tone down and button up. They'll be on message at all times - even when being on message is cunningly done up to look like not caring about being on message.
So candidates, be very afraid: don't say "Is that really our policy?" "We're now definitely outside the constituency", "There's more to life than surgeries," "Just remind me again; what's carbon capture?" , "I don't much care for open primaries myself", "Who do you think you are?" "Don't you know who I am?" or "Sixty-four thousand pounds isn't a lot of money, you know.". Above all, - unless you're very brave - resist the temptation to say: "Look, it's been a long day - why don't you just **** off?"
In short, be human as seldom as possible. Some people will doubtless argue that politics in which letting off steam is squeezed out will be politics with less anger, less laughter and less candour - and less honesty with the voters., as well as less fun. Like many other things, that's a matter of opinion. In the meantime, Alan, who clearly didn't mean what he said, but acted honestly in letting off steam, has apologised to the "activist", who acted dishonestly by secretly recording it. I see that Alan also said that "the world's gone mad". Whether he was right about that is a matter of opinion, too.
> Paul Goodman recently announced his decision to stand down at the next General Election.