Rant, but no Zen on Rantzen

Sunday, August 9, 2009 7:20 | Filed in Politics

So Esther Rantzen is to stand for parliament as an independent MP at the next election.

I don’t really wish to belittle the efforts of Esther Rantzen, after all we all know that she has a Heart Of Gold™ and no doubt has the best interests of the entire nation of Britain at heart, rather than a plan to line her pockets with expenses paid for from the public purse. After all, she presented a consumer affairs programme for twenty-odd years. It might not have appealed to everyone, but hey, That’s Life!

So I’m sure Esther Rantzen’s no-doubt golden heart is in the right place, but … well …

I’m not entirely sure how I can articulate my disquiet at the idea of Esther as an MP easily, without making it sound like I’m having a go at her, which is not my intention, but I’m going to give it my best shot.

Firstly, whilst Esther spent twenty years presenting a consumer and current affairs programme, she has remained in the public consciousness mostly as someone who would hold up rude shaped vegetables (usually a carrot looking vaguely like two legs and a small penis) or introduce some feature where a dog can speak and say ’sausages’.

For those of you not familiar with the footage, please note that this is not a spoof. This was actually a segment of That’s Life!

Vegetables shaped like genitalia and dogs which don’t really talk. That’s what we know Esther for. Admittedly, it would be stupid to presume that people can’t change: after all, thirty-four years ago I liked drinking milk and was fixated by women’s breasts, whereas now I… well, anyway, Esther might well have changed.

She was also known for being a bit of a crusader, to put things right. And this crusading zeal is precisely what I am worried about. What happens where Esther’s moral values or judgements on what is acceptable differ from mine? I don’t want to see a big crusade to bring back corporal punishment, or to ensure that you can’t get drinks promotions in bars (or that you can’t get beer stronger than 7%), or that in order to protect the kiddies, anyone accused of dodgy practices with kids must be forcibly castrated and prevented from working with children ever again.

(Don’t get me wrong, I’m all up for the ‘prevention of working with children’ for those found guilty, but I’m not for setting up an ‘accusers charter’ whereby innocent people such as teachers can have their careers ruined by unfounded allegations)

Now, it may be that Esther doesn’t stand for these things, but that’s precisely the problem. Her stance appears to be “vote for me because I’m Esther Rantzen”. I’d rather choose who to vote for on the basis of their personal policies, or at the very least the policies of their political party. Not because they have a track record of unearthing dogs who can say sausages.

There’s also two further issues: firstly, it’s suggesting that the cult of personality should have a bigger say in politics: back to “vote for me because I’m Esther Rantzen”. Admittedly, this is coming into politics somewhat anyway — one of the big things in 1997 and 2001 in particular, Tony Blair was seen as a preferable leader to the Conservative equivalent, and I rather suspect David Cameron will sweep to victory in 2010 on a similar basis. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I’d rather the electorate voted for the party with the policies that they believed in the most, as opposed to sleepwalking to the polls in the name of a relatively charismatic party leader.

But I’m prepared to let this ‘cult of personality’ issue pass, as seemingly it’s an increasing trend and more importantly it appears that there is bugger all I can do about it.

However, there’s also the final issue. The reason Esther is standing for Parliament is, apparently, because she was disgusted at a particular MP’s expenses claims.

Now, I’d hate to have to be the one to point this out to Esther, but didn’t she notice anything that happened since? Such as MP’s expenses being published online for the public to check? A bit redacted, mind you, but Cameron has called for them to be published uncensored, and he has a rather better chance of getting law to be made than one independent MP; that the police were to look into this, that MPs paid back half a million quid (admittedly of money they shouldn’t have claimed in the first place); and that a new — if imperfect — expenses cleanup Bill has been made law.

Has Esther not noticed any of this? Has she not realised that MPs simply aren’t going to be able to claim ‘dubious’ expenses any more?

If she has noticed, then why does she think she can do better? And if for some reason she hasn’t noticed, would you really want to elect someone to help make the law on your behalf where it would appear they simply have no idea what has actually been happening in the news?

And why in particular does she feel she can do better than a Labour candidate, or a Liberal Democrat candidate, or a Conservative candidate? We don’t know what her policies are, where she sits on the political divide, or why she feels she can do a better job than one of the other candidates? Simply because she’s “been on the telly”?

Or is it just because she’s seen Martin Bell have a go, and despite not realising that the circumstances are different (the candidate accused of ’sleaze, Neil Hamilton, hadn’t stepped down and stood against Martin Bell), has decided to have a bash herself?

Now as I’ve said, I don’t want this to come across as Rantzen-bashing; I’m sure she’s doing this all with the best of intentions. Only I don’t think she could serve Luton South best as their MP. I think there’s something she could do which would be of far more long term benefit to those in Luton South — and in the rest of the country. In the short term, I think she could probably serve Luton South best by making it publicly clear where the other candidates stand on a number of issues, and then swinging her publicity machine behind any examples of where the candidates say one thing prior to the election and do something entirely different when they have been elected.

But importantly, I’d rather have a politician voting the way they said they would vote, and pocketing an extra few bob or two, than one which keeps their hands firmly out of the public purse, but for whom their election promises mean nothing once they have been returned as an MP. To me, the first of these two is the more honest.

So if Esther really does want to serve the country, I’d suggest she throws her weight and considerably effective publicity machine behind The Straight Choice.

Election leaflets are one of the main weapons in the fight for votes in the UK.
They are targeted, effective and sometimes very bitter. We need your help to photograph and map them so we can keep an eye on what the parties are up to, and try to keep them honest.The Straight Choice

That’s what I want to see more than anything else. Honesty in election promises; honesty in election campaigns. If Esther could get every constituency in the country signed up to that, and then tie it up to voting records of those elected, that would be the best way she could serve the country.

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