Me and my vote: JG Ballard

'Politics has been downgraded. It is no longer a matter of competing ideologies, but has become a kind of public relations exercise.'

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Politics

‘Politics has been downgraded. It is no longer a matter of competing ideologies, but has become a kind of public relations exercise.’

JG Ballard, described by some as Britain’s greatest living novelist, will ‘probably vote Labour’ at the general election. ‘My impression is that they have done pretty well – you can’t expect miracles, even from Tony Blair.’ This might sound like a sedate viewpoint from the man who brought us Crash, the taboo-busting novel about sex and car crashes. But according to Ballard, ordinary politics is what people want.

‘The public wants a handsome man, with a friendly smile, and a nice family. That’s a key thing about Blair – he has children, and most of his rivals don’t: Hague, Portillo, Widdecombe, Gordon Brown, Peter Mandelson…none of them has any children. Blair is the guy next door with the people carrier and mortgage and wife and five kids, and that’s what people like.

‘Part of Blair’s rise has come about because every other politician seems to be on the decline – he benefits from that, he is often popular by default. William Hague is clearly never going to be prime minister, it is inconceivable, and the Tories need to realise that.

‘The Conservatives have been in opposition for four years and most people would find it difficult to name more than one or two front-bench spokepersons. Apart from Widdecombe, Portillo and….even I’m at a loss. Who are those strange people who sit on the opposite bench? The Tories are like the Labour Party was 20 years ago. I think people feel about Hague as they felt about Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock – just completely un-electable.

‘New Labour does have an authoritarian streak, which is always a danger when you have one-party rule, which effectively is what we have now. Blair and his leadership don’t need to make many compromises – they would laugh to hear someone saying that because they think they have to make compromises all the time, but they don’t.

‘Blair is one of these new politicians, more open, more emotional. The role of prime minister today is to be a public relations front – he’s like a hotel greeter: “I want you all to have a wonderful time!” Clinton did the same thing to perfection, while stroking the bottom of the nearest secretary.

‘Of course, politics probably suffers as a result. But how much politics do we need? Maybe that’s the answer: we don’t need as much politics as we used to have.’

Brendan O’Neill is coordinating the spiked-conference Panic attack: Interrogating our obsession with risk, on Friday 9 May 2003, at the Royal Institution in London.

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Topics Politics


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