We’ve all heard the saying: politicians are only human. In the BBC political satire The Thick of It, government minister Hugh Abbott defends his latest gaffe to the party spin doctor with the sarcastic words: “They should just clone ministers, you know, so we’re born at 55 with no past, and no flats, and no genitals.”
The British like to snigger and revel in the latest Berlusconi ‘Bunga Bunga’ revelation and his inappropriate quips always bring about both international condemnation and YouTube hits. The words “Berlusconi” and “legend” co-exist in harmony on countless UK Facebook appreciation sites and forums. Yet heaven forbid should a UK MP step out of line in the same way. You remember that summer, don’t you? The one with all the outrage over claims for garden moats, bathrobes, dog food, toilet seat repairs (twice by Mr Prescott, oh the unchecked greed!)
I’m no expert in political science but I do know some countries have some pretty grim elected representatives. The Netherlands have Geert Wilders, whose extremist views on Islam have led to prosecution on charges of incitement to hatred and discrimination, while Kosovo have Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, whose CV allegedly includes murder and organ trafficking. These fellows make our badly behaving politicians du jour such as Nick Clegg, wittily dubbed ‘Pinickio’ look… well, not too bad.
Every week there will be a story of a politician somewhere in the world losing his job for doing something wrong, stupid or just plain weird. But there will also be a lucky chap somewhere else who got away with the same offence.
Some may wonder why Labour MP Stuart MacLennan lost his job for tweeting that Cameron was a “twat”, while Dutch politician Frank Van der Vorst’s weird 110 character proclamation: “as you throbbingly climax for the first time I feel your juices in my mouth as if they were the nectar of love”, simply gained him 20 new followers. Australian minister Matt Brown was forced to quit only three days into the job for, in his words, acting in a manner not befitting a minister (and in ours, dancing in his underwear at an office party). Yet Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek was photographed in Sardinia at Berlusconi’s villa bathing naked next to topless women, and this was merely seen as another one of Silvio’s crazy antics (I know, legend).
In Bulgaria, politician Dimitar Kerin was sacked for his addiction to Farmville. Apparently his aides kept busting him while he was trying plant his crops. While in the USA a rare act of bipartisan cooperation was credited to Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Republican Kevin Brady’s mutual love of the Nintendo Wii. As Schultz claimed in setting up the E-tech caucus, her “co-chairman had to be someone who was ‘living’ video games” – whatever that means.
Life as a politician is full of pitfalls; you may or may not get sacked for taking bribes, fiddling expenses, faking qualifications or having sex with the wrong person/people. And, as events in the Ivory Coast have shown, when you lose an election, it’s kind of awkward if you don’t go. But as a general rule of thumb it seems that the easiest way for a politician to get into a lot of trouble is simply to say what he or she thinks.
Sometimes the fallout is small; sometimes it threatens to cause an international incident. Last year Baroness Tonge was forced to resign for calling for an investigation into claims that Israeli soldiers dispatched to Haiti were involved in organ-trafficking operations. This was not the first time the Baroness has lost her job. In 2004, her suggestion that she would consider becoming a suicide bomber didn’t go down very well either. Even Scottish MP, Frank McAveety, lovingly given the title “Sexist, Sleazy and Racist” MP McAveety by the media, learnt the hard way that being a bit pervy can offend the sensitivities of a whole nation when he privately and poetically, or at least so he thought, praised a visitor to the Parliament gallery for having “that Filipino look, you know. The kind you would see in a Gaugin painting. There’s a wee bit of culture.”
Yet not everywhere in the world seems to be so sensitive. Eighty-two year old Giancarlo Gentillini, now deputy mayor of Trevisio in Italy, is such a popular local figure that even his recent attacks on “faggots…and things like that” (by which he was eloquently referring to immigrants and Islam) have not sped up his retirement. I remember in 2008 a lot of fuss being made over a German Governor in Chancellor Merkel’s party who, on the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, insensitively likened criticism of executive salaries to a pogrom against them. While writing this article, I decided to google him and find out what had happened to him in the past three years. Wikipedia now tells me Christian Wulff is the President of Germany.
Alistair Luca Renton