It is often said that we live in an age of consumables, where appliances have built-in obsolescence and it is often simpler to buy a new item than to repair it. Even so, it is shocking to find that this principle even applies to prime ministers.
The UK is now enjoying, if that’s the word, its fourth premiership in six years (its third in three). These are the levels of a single-use iPhone, although when you replace a mobile we usually expect an upgrade.
But Britain has degraded its leaders so relentlessly that if they were phones, we’d soon be back to a device with no internet access and where the only game was Snake.
Since the 1970s, only Thatcher and Blair have been a clear step up from their predecessor. And even the Major now looks like a classic device compared to what came after. Whether Liz Truss delivers an upside remains to be seen, but what statisticians call a trend line is undeniably bearish.
Some of these discontinued PMs are so new, they are still under warranty. This perhaps explains the rush to trade. “I got this prime minister here 18 months ago, but it’s not working anymore. What do you mean the defects were known in advance and I have to wait until the election? I want a new leader now, preferably from 140,000 people I’ve never met.”
The turnover is remarkable. It is true that 1963-64 delivered three Prime Ministers, but the first and last of the trio (Macmillan and Wilson) ruled between them for 15 years either side of that period.
Now leaders are being swayed by the lure of a new model with improved electoral features such as purer conservatism, lawlessness and cruelty to Europeans.
Not since Blair secured the prime ministership through the painstaking work of first winning an absolute parliamentary majority in an election. Five of our past seven Prime Ministers took the job without ever going before the voters.
Perhaps a more accurate analogy than an iPhone would be a football manager, mainly because of the often unreasonable expectations fans have of change. As with managers, you don’t wait for defeat. What you need to understand, Gary, is that prime ministers are all about results. You need to take action the moment you see your team going in the wrong direction. And political history shows that there can be enough of a temporary bounce to avoid a fall.
It would, however, be nice to see political leaders being interviewed as if they were football managers.
“Well, Gary, to be honest, we’ve been undone by some really bad refereeing decisions. I mean, when did it become a criminal offense to have a slice of birthday cake or a little informal drinks party?’
“Wasn’t that when you legislated for it?”
“That’s it, this interview is over.”
It’s no good arguing that it’s just a bad set of local elections. Once the fans turn on you, it’s over. They fire you in the morning. And it’s not even enough to keep winning, you have to play the right kind of politics. The Tories want to see displays of totalitarian conservatism with the right breaking the touchline with deregulation initiatives to maximize Brexit opportunities. Labor supporters also want to see an established socialist group bombarding the left who are playing state takeover of all the big utilities.
And if it’s not a football manager or an iPhone, maybe it’s a reality TV model. Besides, if I can vote for someone Island of Love the Strictly. . . every week, why wait five years for a new prime minister?
This matters because the more leaders worry about being overthrown in the near future, the less likely they are to make the tough decisions or undertake necessary reforms that will not benefit them.
But here we are. There is always a better team, a fitter competitor, a smarter phone and a fresher leader if we just reach out and grab them. This is the end state of political consumerism, and we’re here because we deserve it.
Follow Robert on Twitter @robertshrimsley and email to email@example.com
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