Last year, the British writer Sam Kriss semi-facetiously identified an alternating pattern in UK prime ministers: slimy and greasy. David Cameron is slimy (“Call me Dave, he says, as he stares at you with hunger in his slitted eyes”), while his predecessor Gordon Brown was greasy, and Tony Blair shone in turn like weathered plastic. But the advent of UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who recently won numerous European parliamentary seats for his anti-Europe party by invoking the terrifying image of Romanian construction workers, threatens to collapse this duality of oleaginity:
“Blame the immigrants, hisses slimy Cameron. Blame the immigrants, rumbles greasy Brown. And somewhere, in a disused sewerage pipe in Kent, the slime and grease of their duplicity blends together and forms a hideous blob, growing with every new outrage, until it assumes human form and a wonky grin tears across Nigel Farage’s face…”
Blurring as it may be, can this viscous distinction fit onto Canadian politics?
Brian Mulroney was classically slimy, disgorging corruption scandals like redundant husks of his body. Jean Chrétien could’ve been spontaneously generated by the contents of an abandoned poutine bowl. Once we reach Stephen Harper, however, the taxonomy needs to be expanded. His skin seems, at most, a little clammy, his smile too awkward and forced to convey either slimy guile or regular-bloke greasiness. Harper’s integral quality is beadiness, as in eyes—the bloodless calculation of a squinting economist. Being someone who takes a pretty high lens prescription myself, I know the look. Yet the prime minister’s megalomania, not to mention that unfortunate competence, makes him an unusual example of the political type; for a more standard model, its hapless exemplar, consider Tim Hudak, who led Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party to such humiliation last night.
He looks beady enough. Hudak’s eyes suggest a cave where corpses get dumped in some Cormac McCarthy novel, so pitted and metallic that they must’ve been twisted there with a wrench. His hair probably plugs in like a battery panel. But the jerky-android pronouncements he made during this dire election campaign remain most revealing of his programming. The beady-eyed legislator couches right-wing austerity as a sobering necessity, something required by credit-rating agencies, not an act of ideological principle: Like ancient Britons flinched beneath a druid’s sickle, so we must sacrifice 100,000 public workers to appease Moody’s. Hudak’s masochistic insistence that he lacked political skill was accurate but disingenuous, as if he wouldn’t be getting off when the provincial budget got smacked around. It reminded me of the men who call up the crisis hotline where a friend volunteers and demand to be humiliated for their small penises.
This tendency doesn’t always move towards the right; number-fetishizing infographics could be seen as a variation on the species. And I’ve never heard a more cutting description of it than one offered by the UK’s post-war socialist minister Aneurin Bevan, deriding a centrist rival:
“I know that the right kind of leader for the Labour Party is a kind of desiccated calculating-machine who must not in any way permit himself to be swayed by indignation … He must speak in calm and objective accents and talk about a dying child in the same way as he would about the pieces inside an internal combustion engine.”
(For “internal combustion engine,” substitute “call centre” or “Tim Hortons franchise staffed by desperate temporary labour.”)
Still, when the state itself is reduced to a mere adjunct of capitalism, its attendants burbling about achievement metrics and their plans to innovatively disrupt what’s left of welfare, who will be best placed to fulfill this beady vision? Resentment is an emotional leitmotif of modern conservative politics, and nerdy boys in Accounting have lots to draw upon.