Our Political Editor David O' Donoghue argues that Greece's newest Minister for Finance, Yanis Varoufakis, is striking a chord amongst the people because he is doing something that most government people choose not to-presenting himself as a real person.
There was much surprise when a man who was once legally referred to as Ming the Merciless was elected to the Irish Parliament. An unshaven property developer with a taste in shirts akin to Ross from Friends- “it’s salmon!”- provoked a similarly bemused response.
Confused glances and stifled giggles all emerged from the benches full of suited and booted career politicians as these eccentrics took their place in parliament. And despite some public disdain, Mick Wallace and Luke “Ming” Flanagan have remained some of the most popular politicians in the country, even at a time when “politicians” as a class of person are considered slightly more unpopular than Ebola and the popcorn kernel that gets stuck in your teeth every time you go the cinema.
Greece’s newly elected Minister for Finance Yanis Varoufakis has been an unusual sight traipsing around Europe, speaking to some of the most powerful rulers and jesters in the Royal Court of the continent.
He stands next to men in pressed suits, with their false smiles and polite handshakes, while he struts around in his leather jacket with a James Dean grin of quiet confidence. Here is a man shocking the world of politics as he, like his party leader Alexis Tsipras, has refused to wear the noose of formality that is the necktie. He is a man who showed up for his first day of work, as one of the most important economic minds in Europe and the world, on his prized Yamaha motorcycle.
And Varoufakis is not just an eccentric rebel with a taste for biker gang chic- he’s got brains too. A lauded economist who carefully straddles the line between radical and pragmatic. There is much confidence in his ability to tear Greece from the “fiscal waterboarding” (as he calls it) of austerity policies, while keeping Big Brother Germany from throwing a strop, ending this “European Union” game and going home to play with its toys on its own because “Greece is a big meanie”.
Now I’m not sure about you, but I don’t see No Charisma Kenny or Michael “Whisper, or you’ll wake the baby” Noonan rocking up to Leinster House in their Harley Davidson’s any time soon. And it is precisely their wacky eccentricity that makes politicians such as Varoufakis or Ming so popular and endearing.
Politics has gone from an act of radical theatre, full of larger than life characters and big ideas, to a quietly stage managed production where the most successful are those who keep their heads down and try not to make too much noise. They read their carefully written lines, never deviating from the standard script. Night after night we drag ourselves into the cheap seats and hear them drone on in robot voices about “fiscal responsibility” and “budgetary discipline” and we yawn and stretch.
Many people walk right out of the Political Theatre and never look back. A few particularly disquieted souls hurl a tomato or two at the performers and are all promptly told, in an oh-so-respectful manner, that they are terrorists and fascists. We have ruined their prim and proper outfits, their perfectly folded pantsuits and wonderfully straight ties. They look down on us with our rags and band t-shirts and unusual haircuts. Why can’t we just be civilised and proper?
Varoufakis is so enrapturing because he is that strangest of things for a politician to be: a real person. Not a stage managed puppet, carefully fed lines and shackled to his ironed monkey suit. He is an eccentric, but aren’t we all? How can a populace full of weirdos and kooks, full of passions and loves, full of eccentricities and personalities of all sorts, be ruled over by a band of suited, emotionless robots?
Varoufakis might be strange and unorthodox, but so are the electorate. He strikes a chord with people who see a man with real interests and desires and passions outside of looking good on camera and having a winning smile. He is a politician of substance, with all the gritty strangeness that comes with.
How long more can a populace of dreamers and lovers be dominated by an elite that so often seem like aliens or automatons, their unfeeling eyes glimpsing out at we proud weirdos who elected them?