Once upon a time, a good man decided to run for parliament. For many years he had looked at the way his country was run and thought, “I could do better than that.” One day he realised that unless people like him got involved, nothing would ever change.
So he joined a party that claimed to stand for the things he believed in because they seemed like the best option, even though these days their policies were fairly indistinct from those of their opposition. He volunteered and helped out and handed out leaflets and knocked on doors and attended meetings and tried to get things done. People admired his passion and his idealism and his honesty.
Before too long there was by-election in his area. His new friends in the party put him into the pre-selection contest. He and his wife ran his campaign from their kitchen with the help of their neighbours. On the night of his victory party, a member of the local press asked him how it felt to benefit from another’s misfortune. As his mouth produced the rehearsed platitude, part of his mind did pause to wonder at the timing of the revelations about his opponent, but he was soon swept up in the celebrations.
As the official candidate, there was support and resources he could never have expected. He relished the long nights debating issues and the coffee mornings with the local community groups. Now he could make a difference. He made some missteps early on that could have landed him in trouble, but the party machine stepped in and supported him. He quickly learned to trust their experience and, boy, did it pay off when he won?
He had looked forward to being a local MP, to making a difference where people lived. No issue too small; that was his motto! But there was a general election coming up and the party explained that he needed to campaign. He tried to do both, but it was exhausting. He told himself he would focus on the electorate after the election – after all, he couldn’t do much good if he wasn’t in government.
So the good man did as his party demanded. He worked hard! And, if much of his energy was devoted to currying favour with the party leaders in the hope of the junior ministry position that was waved in front of him like a steak before a starving man, well that was only so he could do more good. He wouldn’t achieve nearly as much as an ordinary local MP as he could in a ministry!
And so the days and months passed. He wined and dined, shook hands and kissed babies. He tweeted sincere messages about his work himself mostly, only calling on the help of his aide when he was really busy. He made many promises to many people (although not when the press were around) and at the time he really meant them.
One day his teenage daughter screamed at him that he was a lying scumbag hypocrite. When the drug test was clear, and she had calmed down, he tried to explain that sometimes for the good of the party – for the greater good, his views had to take a back seat to the party line. Somehow she twisted his words and it all came out wrong so at the party’s advice he paid for her to go visit her cousin in Canada. It was quite a relief that she actually got on the plane.
On the eve of the election he participated in a debate at his local town hall. The party staffers congratulated him on his performance: he was a natural, they said. So when, on the drive home, his wife commented that she was surprised by some of his answers, he was taken aback. But when he thought about it, she was right: he had felt differently about some of the issues before he joined the party.
That night he dreamed he was made of liquid like that machine in Terminator 2. He was campaigning and every time he met someone new he would change his shape to become what they wanted him to be. He was hugely popular but all the shape-shifting made the oily liquid he was made of turn rancid and he woke up choking on the smell.
The next day dawned bright and the nation went to the polls. He won his seat and the party rewarded him with a junior role in a minor ministry. People applauded him and patted him on the back wherever he went. But as he took his seat in his new office, leaning back against the leather of his plush executive chair, his pleasure at the thought he could finally start doing good was spoiled by the faint smell of rancid oil.