THE POLITICAL JOKER

by JC

If we are to consider a pack of cards, the joker is a figure who is unique compared to all other cards.  It is a card that has no intrinsic value, it has no worth in the vast majority of card games and seemingly offers little else than a means of bookmarking the deck.  For the majority of those who play cards, the joker is discarded and rarely thought of again.

 

Of course there is a reason that the joker is included in the deck and no deck of cards would be complete without it.  It may have no value but just the same as a Queen, an Ace, a ten or a King, it is a card which fits collectively into the deck.  It is an odd one out but is nevertheless part of the pack.  The fact that it has no value per say does not mean that it does not exist.  We find that in politics we can draw a comparison.  These are politicians who lack any real substance, policy or ideology but whose very uniqueness facilitates a conversation around politics. Usually, and much like the joker, they are a figure of amusement and occasionally derision.

 

These are politicians who rarely ascend heady heights of the government but provide amusement and even variety to what is consider a boring and bland profession.  There is a notion that these figures can gain such popularity as they represent something intrinsically human.  Much like the joker they do not pretend to be worth anything other than the face value which they represent.  They are intensely human characters, and whom we suspect would not want to be treated any differently than that.  They seemingly refuse to take part in the game of politics, and to a public that is naturally sceptical about politics that is intensely appealing.

We find this concept of the joker in politics best crystallised in the form of the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.  Prior to becoming Mayor of London, it was inconceivable he would enjoy such mass popularity.  After being kicked out of the party for lying to the then Conservative leader Michael Howard, it seemed Johnson would be confined to a life of political exile.  Once back in the party and after winning the London Mayoral election Johnson has enjoyed an unprecedented level of

popularity, a level of popularity his party can only dream of emulating, a level of popularity that has led some to call for him to become the leader of the Conservative Party.

 

Johnson is known for moments of comedic brilliance.  We need only think of the famous zip-wire incident wherein he turned a potential disaster into an amusing piece of PR.  Or the charity football game wherein he rugby tackled the opposition.  His use of apolitical metaphor, such as his confession that he would take leadership of his party should the ball come out of the scrum, as he put it, appeals to the public who do not feel passionate about politics.  To push the card metaphor even further, it is a reluctance of the public to play the political game, but they are more than willing to buy into a character who is seen as a bit of a maverick. The joker.

 

This all sounds very good.  The public do not like politics and therefore a figure such as Johnson who is eccentric and entertaining holds mass appeal.  Despite this, there is a reason that the joker is not counted in most games.  This is simply because there is more to politics than being amusing or eccentric.  There is a feeling that should Johnson become a minister or leader of the Conservative Party the public would soon see through him.  Much like the joker is only unique as it does not fit within a game, once characters like Johnson are drawn into the political mainstream they lose their uniqueness and therefore their appeal.  The joker will never become like the rest of the cards, it has no value in a deck and once we assign it value it is no longer unique.  The joker is interesting but ultimately without value.