A possible response to the shamelessness of British politics – POLITICO

Silvia Binenti is a PhD student at University College London (UCL), specializing in Italian politics and the role of popular culture. Jason Dittmer is an author and professor of political geography at UCL.

For most Europeans, British politics has always been associated with a specific stereotype: looking decent and dignified, however unscrupulous its domestic and foreign policy.

More recently, however, many inside and outside the UK have been struck by the breakdown of political decorum in government, with remarkable shamelessness repeatedly giving leaders political advantage.

A dizzying array of examples comes to mind here: so-called Partygate and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s rewrite of the Cabinet Code to mitigate its consequences; the government’s threat to disavow the recently concluded Northern Ireland Protocol; and just last week the refusal of the Labor Party’s request for a vote of confidence in the House of Commons.

By emphasizing dignity and resignation, the British constitution has repeatedly proven unable to cope with this new culture of non-compliance and shamelessness, leaving many wondering how to deter this behavior, now that it has become a winning tactic in the political game.

Interestingly, the answer may lie just 900 miles away in Italy, with Fantacitorio – a fantasy game designed to make sense of political absurdity.

Home to former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Bunga Bunga parties and a political stereotype closer to Johnsonism than not, Italy has long faced questions about its politics similar to those posed to Britain today. today – and she finally found an answer: Treat politics as just a game, with a fantasy version for people to play at home, just like football.

Adding the prefix fantasy, as in the fantasy, in the name of Montecitorio, seat of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, the premise of the game was first presented on the popular television talk show “Propaganda Live”. In a satirical monologue, a beleaguered citizen confessed: “I haven’t followed politics for some time; I no longer understand it. The absurd statements of a minister or a governor or a party leader leave me astonished, perplexed. Then, he explained, the words of a friend opened his eyes:

“Are you serious telling me that you have always listened to the statements of politicians, without ever linking them to [fantasy] dots in Fantacitorio? I mean . . . did you always take everything for real?

After the success of the monologue, the show’s producers decided to officially launch the game in February – a week before the Russian invasion of Ukraine – with over 1,500 teams competing until the end of the championship in June.

The rules are as follows: At the start of the game, participants receive an endowment of fanfani — the currency of Fantacitorio, named after a former Prime Minister – which is used to buy and build a “team” of politicians. Much like fantasy football, players then rack up points based on the ridiculous, self-righteous and contradictory things their team members say or do: “82 points to the former prime minister who, in wartime and during a pandemic , articles about running with a goal weight of 82 kilograms. Or, “50 points to the senator who, in times of war and during a pandemic, calls for a new airport in Cortina”, an upscale mountain destination.

However, the premise of the game was quickly reversed, as some politicians began to intentionally try to score points to gain publicity. A relatively unknown MP even shared a video thanking his fantasy managers for investing in him: “A hit for the real connoisseurs, I promise to earn you lots of points until the end of the legislature!” he says, turning this satire of politics into politics as satire.

Of course, this isn’t new – the collapse of politics in entertainment is a well-documented trend. What is different here, however, is that FantacitorioThe producers of kind of refused to be co-opted in this way. For example, in a somewhat metasatirical move, one MP – a much-requested top player in the Fantacitorio market – received a seven-day suspension for deliberately seeking attention on social media through the game.

Timing was also everything. The gravity of current political events – especially after the invasion of Ukraine – called for a different kind of politician, one who doesn’t contort himself so shamelessly. So when right-wing populist Matteo Salvini said Ukrainians should be welcomed with open arms as “legitimate refugees,” he was also breaking the rules of the game.

As the original monologue made clear, “A leader of a nationalist party who, to solve the migrant problem, offers to sink their boats is worth 15 points. Yes, it’s not much now. Before it was 200 points, but then it devalued. Conversely, in the then unthinkable scenario where a nationalist and anti-immigration leader would have decided to welcome refugees, the move “wouldn’t be a bonus, it’s a penalty! It’s worth minus 50 points, it’s like an own goal,” the game said.

From this perspective, Fantacitorio has also become a forum for holding Italian politicians to account. The game’s unwavering focus on political shamelessness and its popularity on social media has actually put some pressure on politicians across the country to face the times we live in with dignity, as the coronavirus pandemic and war in Europe threaten to undo the progress of the last century.

When a grossly sexist joke between two members of the same party was filmed, for example, the game’s producers decided to deduct points directly from party leader Giorgia Meloni in the hope that “she could educate them ” – even a fantastic game. could not condone such conduct.

Now, as it looks to a post-Johnson future in which economic and geopolitical clouds gather on the horizon, the UK needs a similar mechanism to draw attention and support the criticism of a whole generation of politicians who came to power during the shameless fabrications of the last decade.

How many points for the former chancellor who is running for prime minister by offering to fix the economy? Or how many points for the child of South Asian immigrants campaigning against “woke” views on race and empire?

Given that the guardrails of the British Constitution have proven vulnerable to such shamelessness, we need to devise new mechanisms to discipline politicians – and that could, no doubt, prove to be a fun solution.


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