When Labour won the General Election in 1945, Professor Harold Laski, one of the party’s prominent figures, prophesised, “1,000 years of socialism”. They got six. This is if you allow that the period up to 1951 was socialism, as many adherents have their different interpretations, all of which are right of course. It is possible to become delusional about the consequences of power. People can too easily believe that their influence and power will become permanent features, when in reality they are temporary and derived from others.
It is amazing what some election outcomes can convey. Tony Blair’s victory in 1997 seemed to confer an aura of invincibility on his party, leading to 13 years of continuous rule. Yes this was still a great deal less than the 32 years that his party continuously controlled Crawley Council, up to 2006. The local councillors responsible for this feat used to think and say that they would never lose control, but they were wrong. In the same period, the Conservative Party moved from an apparent death-knell of controlling about eight councils to becoming the major party in local government, with some 10,000 councillors nationally.
Individual politicians can become delusional about why they are elected. Some conjure up visions of a huge personal vote which rarely exists. They become legends in their own imagination, forgetting that their electoral success is almost always down to the current popularity of their party label or brand.
Delusions are not confined to national and local politics. Television shows that encourage the possibility of instant celebrity stimulate ambition, but do the same for unreality. Some of the contestants on X Factor give the impression that entering this show is the same as putting in a job application. It is their effort at improving their own economic circumstances. Given that there are tens of thousands of contestants, the careers advice tip should surely be, “Don’t make this your only pitch for a job.” Similarly there is the inherent crudity in the “Big Brother” concept that some individuals can become instantly rich and famous for doing nothing much while the rest of us are working.
It is worth remembering that many established and successful people have worked very hard to get there. The success that they enjoy today was not instant but had to be earned. That route might include education and apprenticeship. Even the full development of a natural talent can take time. Some sense of reality need not harm our individual aspirations. We can have positive ambition without self-destructive delusion.
Councillor Bob Lanzer, Leader of Crawley Borough Council
18th October 2011