A smartphone in every pocket means that our public figures live under constant surveillance and scrutiny, even during their down time. Every word that comes out of their mouths, and every event in their past, is now subject to analysis by 24 hour news cycles and social media. Many voters may see this as a good thing – after all, why should our elected leaders be forgiven for a moment of homophobia or racism?
What this does mean is that the bulk of the west’s political figures are individuals who can toe the line, spout the expected phrases, who are capable of flapping around an interviewer’s question without really saying anything; in essence, people who won’t rock the boat.
Every now and again this grey, middle-of-the-road world is disrupted by politicians who refuse to conform, and often not in a positive way. American and European politics has more than its fair share of bigots, chauvinists, racists, and homophobes. In many cases these people remain at a fairly low level of government, but at times they make it to the upper echelons and become party leaders, mayors of entire cities, and even prime ministers.
5. Sarah Palin – U.S.A.
Prior to her 2008 nomination as McCain‘s running mate, Palin was a relative unknown outside her native Alaska. This meant that during her vice-presidential campaign her career and personal life were picked through in minute detail by the country’s papers and news teams. One of the subjects that was the source of much derision was her involvement in a ‘Predator Control Program’ which would’ve enabled wolves to be hunted from the air to increase the moose population. The program, which was eventually voted out, would have paid hunters $150 per wolf carcass.
This ties into Palin’s image as a gun-friendly politician, with a lifetime membership of the National Rifle Association. She famously supports the right to carry a handgun, and is staunchly opposed to any bans on semi-automatic weapons. Just to round off her stereotypically old school Republican image, Palin is also a strong supporter of offshore and land based oil drilling in America, and continues to deny climate change, stating that the rises in temperature are part of a larger cyclical pattern. Palin’s religious, traditional family values were famously undermined when her teenage daughter fell pregnant outside of wedlock – Bristol Palin remains a single mother.
In the years following the Democrat’s victory Palin has spent her time becoming entangled with the ever-controversial Tea Party, has released two books, and presents her own TV program called ‘Amazing America’, which was described by one critic as ‘a show so bland it’s impossible to hate’.
4. Gerry Adams – Ireland
The Sinn Féin party, which is active in both Northern Ireland and Ireland, is dedicated to ending British rule in Northern Ireland. Its current leader is the contentious figure of Gerry Adams, who was recently released without charge following four days in custody. During his time in the Dublin prison he was questioned about a case of kidnap and murder in the early 70s.
Adams is an extremely controversial character who has been historically linked to the militant terrorist organisation, the Irish Republican Army. The country’s newspapers noted that the evidence to link Adams to the crime was clearly lacking, but it is widely believed that he was closely involved with this particular event, and with a series of car-bombings in London in the same year.
3. Nigel Farage – Britain
The European Union elections recently have seen an overwhelming, continent-wide backlash against the political and economic union. One of the key figures in this movement is the British politician Nigel Farage, a former Conservative and the founder of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which aims at a complete succession from the EU.
Farage himself is a real ‘character’, and one of which the traditional political parties are rightly scared. Compared to many of the blander, more beige Labourites and Conservatives, the UKIP leader is veritable headline fodder. A well publicised drinker and smoker, Farage is rarely seen without a pint glass of ale, and often holds publicity events in pubs. As an outspoken critic of immigrant workforces and the EU Farage was recently ridiculed for employing his German wife as his secretary, and criticised for accepting European money for an office which was provided rent free by his own party.
2. Silvio Berlusconi – Italy
With a net worth of $9 billion, Berlusconi is ranked as the 141st richest person alive. He controls a media empire, owns AC Milan, has been convicted of tax fraud, bribery, and soliciting sex with minors. On top of all this Berlusconi has been the Prime Minister of Italy three times, for a total of nine years. The 77 year-old has been expelled from the Italian senate through a new anti-corruption law which bans him from legislative work for 6 years.
It’s difficult to know where to start with a politician like Berlusconi, as the list of his legal cases and scandals date back decades. Every aspect of his life has been touched by controversy; there are the tax fraud cases that were brought against his media empire Mediastat in the 80s and 90s, his extramarital affairs that have resulted in a divorce settlement of $48 million a year, and the series of sex scandals (including soliciting sex with a minor) that have undermined his time in office. Non-Italians often chalk the Italian acceptance of this kind of behaviour up to particular cultural norms, but the tide has begun to turn for the former cruise-ship entertainer and it looks like, as he approaches his 80th year, he might be forced to slow down.
1. Rob Ford – Canada
The 64th Mayor of Toronto has probably received more international media attention than the other 63 combined. In 2013 he was accused of public inebriation, drink driving, and the use of Class A drugs. At first he denied the allegations, but a Toronto Police investigation (codenamed Project Brazen 2) turned up video footage of his crimes. When the charges were officially brought against him Ford admitted to probably smoking crack during a ‘drunken stupor’.
Ford’s extensive drug and alcohol abuse is obviously the most amusing or worrying (depending on how you look at it) side of his political career, but his blunders are not limited to his substance usage. His general incompetence ranges from his insights on AIDS in 2006 (“If you are not doing needles and you are not gay, you wouldn’t get AIDS probably, that’s bottom line… those are the facts,”) to his thoughts on Toronto’s funding of an LGBT program (“I don’t understand a transgender… Is it a guy dressed up like a girl, or a girl dressed up like a guy? And we’re funding this for – I don’t know, what does it say here – we’re giving them $3,210?”). All in, his failings to even attempt to pretend to be worthy of leadership mean that Ford takes the number one spot on this list for sheer audacity.