I once, unknowingly and naively, took part in what I look back and brand as a political stunt arranged from the party I was in to the party they were against.
There was a photographer there and they, as an experienced political observer, took umbrage when the hopeful politician placed themselves in the picture that seemed to shuffle myself out and put them at the centre.
At the time I couldn’t have cared less! I was there purely in support. I was confused as to why it mattered so much, but as my interest in building my own political support grew the obvious penny dropped.
A photo opportunity is voter currency.
So when there is a charitable event or any other event that can increase your political wealth it is no good just attending quietly.
Your one mission is to get that photo with the organiser.
Similar to those wonderful Attenborough documentaries capturing the lionesses at work: the wait, the timing and the then the kill. There is no room for failure. If the lions go hungry they may perish. If the politician misses they can remain voteless for several elections!
But, after scouring the plains and carefully working out the terrain, a successful hunt can afford them an exciting set of opportunities for social media attention:
"Proud to be with...”; “delighted to support...”; “thrilled to see...”; and the classic “what a great day it was with...”. They have indeed achieved the primary directive.
They did nothing. They didn’t organise a thing. They didn’t contribute to the running of it. They won’t contribute to any future events.
For the organiser it is enough for them to have their profile enhanced for the good of their cause - no question, no problem. In return, the political animal can bask in some of the deflected rays emanating from the person that actually did the work.
Most recently, a project run by a getting well-known community group in Southend, put together a symbolic commemoration scheme. A photoshoot was arranged to show the culmination of that project. Without invitation several politicians showed up, shook some hands, got their picture and walked and rode off, respectively.
I was astonished at the brazen manner in which it took place, but so completed my apprenticeship into the politics of photo opportunities.
There are certainly times when the politician has been central to the support of a project and that shouldn’t be diminished in any way. And turning up to a photo shoot is still doing some good as the position they hold carries some kind of weight. There is also perhaps an obligation to attend these events as an omission might be considered impolite.
And so what if there are some that are doing this for vote winning reasons? Aren’t they there to win votes? Is that not part of their job and obligation to the party? They could be accused of neglecting their duties if they didn’t show.
And it is not an effortless act to have to get up, choose an outfit, make the journey and make pleasantries with people for X amount of time. It could be argued that much of what a politician is in fact symbolic.
So what is the problem with it?
When it is clearly a turn-up and run job that is when it becomes offensive. It is galling.
When it is empty and without meaning.
When people are led to believe someone is working hard because they showed up for 5 minutes.
When it is being disingenuous, pretentious, deceptive, and creating a perception of what they want us to believe of them versus what is in fact reality.
Is it helping you the resident? Or is it helping them to get elected? At times it may be both. But even when the Venn diagram does cross over if it is mere coincidence it is still just as meaningless.
If they put a disclaimer so we could identify when it is vacuous that would help. If they could write exactly what they did to contribute that would be even better. Nothing too long, just a few humble words.
Granted, it could be seen as tasteless and self-promoting, but if done in a respectful way there is nothing wrong in informing us, the electorate, what their contribution is.
I would like to know what exactly they are doing in their job as a politician (without divulging confidences of course). What have they themselves done to help a resident? Very rarely do we hear of this.
Confelicity will no doubt be supporting different projects along the way and we could be accused of the very same thing. We will be tested with the temptation of a seriously vote winning photo shoot. And when that temptation is laid in front of us, a calculation will be required to work out how many political points it will equate to minus how much integrity we are willing to give away!
But I write this as though I am the first to uncover this conspiracy!
The truth is most people already see through it. From Blair rolling up his sleeves whilst posing with the army (to be fair he was instrumental to this one so he can have all the credit) to our latest actor Lizz Truss in her helmet ‘driving’ a tank with no hands; not to mention the Ukraine’s utterly dumbfounding photoshoot with Vogue magazine.
There are endless examples that have created this type of culture within politics, and it has dripped down into local politics. They think that is the way to succeed. But it is not. We want real-life, practical improvements to our lives.
If only our current politicians were inspired by a history of action rather than fiction maybe the method of winning votes wold be different.
For any politicians reading this and thinking it is aimed at you, it is not. It is to raise awareness of our awareness and we are saying don’t bother. Stay in bed. Keep that suit ironed. Don’t waste your time. It is just as likely that you are losing political points because it is so obvious.
We need people to come back to politics, and this, along with all the other inane activity that goes on, continues to drive people away. And then we are left with the few voting for the fewer, while the rest continue to scratch their heads in dis-belief.