Talking Politics: Beyond good and evil

This lady's not for turning - she's for chewing.
This lady's not for turning - she's for chewing.

Growing up in South Yorkshire in the 1980s, the must-have accessory for dog-owners was a squeaky chew toy shaped like Margaret Thatcher’s Spitting Image puppet.

There was a Neil Kinnock one available too, though it’s fair to say it didn’t exactly fly off the shelves round our way.

Perhaps it wasn’t in the best taste to encourage your pet to gradually mutilate a rubber effigy of your political nemesis, though it was certainly cathartic. But there was no real malice in it, just a touch of good old-fashioned irreverent British humour.

But these days it’s not enough to mock the Conservatives. They must be denounced as an evil cabal of sneering supervillains who actively want to kill the poor and who might or might not also be lizards masquerading in human form. Whoever David Cameron employs to check his mentions on Twitter must have the skin of a rhinoceros – the most innocuous Prime Ministerial utterance is met with the kind of foaming, vitriolic death-threat barrage usually reserved for feminists or people who tweet Game of Thrones spoilers.

And Labour don’t get off lightly either. It wasn’t enough to mock Ed Miliband, much as he provided an open goal by being a damp flannel of a bloke who looked a bit of a prat while trying to eat a bacon sandwich. You had to call him a Marxist menace whose dad hated Britain and who wanted to finish the job of destroying all our once-proud nation holds dear.

This infantile good-versus-evil view of the world thrives on pantomime villains while failing to entertain the possibility of heroes, because a flawed hero is so much easier to dismiss as having been just another villain all along.

So Tony Blair’s disastrous judgement call on Iraq makes him worse than Hitler, any good he might ever have done swept away under the carpet-bombs. Gordon Brown, a titan of Scottish politics, vilified by his countrymen for siding with the Noes in the independence referendum.

The tone of our national debate increasingly resembles that of a taxi rank at chucking-out time and it’s killing all nuanced argument. Everything’s simple, everything’s all or nothing. We either treat migrants like vermin or we let millions of them in unchecked. We either submit to 24/7 state surveillance or become a safe haven for terrorists. We either embrace ever-harsher austerity measures or we become the next Greece.

When all that’s in your shed is a flamethrower, everything in the garden starts to look like an unlit bonfire.