Fleas are damned annoying. They jump like hell, itch like hell and, at the extreme, munch away at human flesh like hell.
It seems odd but fleas were involved in the very first erotic writing when used in a poem by the metaphysical poet John Donne. “How the hell could a flea be erotic?” you might ask…
The poem is an exhortation to “Seize the day” (Carpe Diem). The eroticism comes from the swelling up of the flea as it sucks on the human blood of both the man and the women in the poem. This all culminates in the thought. that because the flea has feasted on what is now their mingled blood, they may as well sleep together – Carpe Diem.
As chat-up lines go, metaphysical poetry may no longer be the “go-to” approach, but this did get me thinking about the nature of UK politics today. This isn’t a completely random jump from sex to politics, there is a connection. Donne himself was MP for two seats; Taunton and before that Brackley. As a churchman and a Parliamentarian, he understood the nature of politics. His poetry contained many now well-known phrases, including that “no man is an island” and, as we leave the EU, it may be time to reflect on what comes next for our country and our politics as we fight to be more than just an island.
Like fleas, politicians can be damned annoying. The past year has been irritating to all those looking on with bewilderment at the political inability to do what seemed to the public to be simple. The body politic seemed to be being eaten away before our eyes as a minority Government spent time negotiating and avoiding oppositional elephant traps and slowly moving towards their ultimate goal – securing a General Election at a time of their choosing and on their agenda. But this shenanigans has consequences. It has shattered the public’s view of what politicians can achieve, and this has come just at the time as we cast ourselves away from the unwanted, but at least solid, certainty of the EU.
In December, Boris achieved what he set out to do, he “seized the day” and squashed the metaphorical political flea. But what now?
Do we return to dull and turgid managerial politics or do we truly “seize the day” and turn over the constitutional, regulatory and financial apple cart? Can Boris use his popularity and majority to transform the institutions of this great country just at the time we need to set ourselves on a new path? The balance of powers between the Houses of Parliament, Local Government, and the people, has seen an only incremental change in the politics of the past fifty years. As we leave the EU do we wish these institutions to continue just the same way they did as when we entered it? My view is not.
Reform takes time and for it to work Boris needs to do it now, at the height of his powers. As Donne said, “no man is an island,” and Boris needs to pick his winners and losers now and seek out those MPs who can support the transformation in a new radical Government. The questions we need to ask are “Can he do it?” and “Does he have the degree of talent in his new Parliamentary party to make it happen?”
The judgement on whether leaving the EU is a good idea is something we won’t know for decades but whether Boris can be a transformational Prime Minister is something for this time next year, but he must Carpe Diem.
First published at The Nudge Factory