Thursday, 23 January 2014

The motives of politicians


It is common for us to question the motivation of those who hold a different view. We are too seldom prepared to accept honest or honourable reasons - whether ideological or practical - for that person to wish to do something we would not do.

And the more passionate our commitment to the cause, the more we are unable to accept that someone simply doesn't agree with us or that this disagreement is principled not cynical or driven by some sort of base motive.

So it is with public service reform. I have read some of the thousands of comments, tweets, facebook posts and carefully crafted infographics that impugn the decisions of government. Rather than, for example, accepting that private sector options in delivering health are used because people believe it will lead to better health outcomes, we get the accusation that ministers do it because of personal gain.

And rather than see that reforming welfare helps make work pay and can improve peoples lives, we're told that those proposing change are uncaring or, worse, are motivated by 'hatred of the poor'. Instead of seeing the point (you're not obliged to agree with it) that the prospect of a life on welfare is something to be discouraged, we're fed stories of how changes are proposed to "punish" the poor or the sick.

There may be the occasional person whose motives are questionable but I don't believe the motives of current ministers are anything but decent and honourable. At least not in policy decisions. Nor for that matter do I think that the motives of ministers in Gordon Brown's government - a tragic train crash of ignominious failure - were anything but decent and honourable. I just think they were wrong.

Too much of our discourse is conducted on the basis of trying to destroy the reputation of decent men and women trying to do what they think is the right thing to do. We poke around at where they went to school, at who they are married to, at their friends and at things they might have done twenty or thirty years ago at university. We make sweeping statements - "Tories don't care", "Labour hates business" - as the basis for our arguments without realising how petty, how shallow and, frankly, how nasty it makes us seem.

You're welcome to point out when I have done this - I'm sure I have - and to suggest on this basis that I am a hypocrite. But in the end, if we are to have a politics that people think worthy of respect, we need to try and deal with policy choices on the assumption that the reasons for doing them are decent and not motivated by venality, greed or base political advantage.



Tom said...

Very noble, but isn't it how we got into this mess? Those who devote their political lives to seizing the product of others work to spend on their own objectives (or to buy their supporters' votes) are thieves no less wicked for their political disguise.

Should we really applaud the good intentions of those who have turned honest workers into time share slaves, spending half their lives in forced labour to support a profligate state? And who never stop arguing to take more and more? People who have debased, infantilised and lured into dependence millions of their fellow men at all levels of society, including many owners of businesses that serve the state or those in big corporates that have used its monopoly of violence to create barriers to entry for would be competitors?

Sometimes evil has to be named even if, by its nature, it cannot be shamed. By the way, such villains will lie and defame you regardless so you are wasting your time appealing to their better nature. They don't have one. They have turned the very name of your party into a term of abuse, so that for many you have lost your argument as soon as you identify yourself. How can you be so soft on such people or so naive as to believe they can be persuaded to be soft on you?

Surreptitious Evil said...

Ah, yes. Conviction politicians versus the venial and mendacious.

From within, you are talking to people you work with and probably like and even, in extremis, actually agree with. People are generally well wired to assume the best of people until you are proven wrong.

From the outside, we see incompetence and error, theft and corruption, scandal and petty intrigue. Some of this is media needed "news" to report and mistaking "of interest to the public" with "in the public interest".

As you said, the previous administration was "a tragic train crash of ignominious failure". If this is the best that the political class have to offer, is it any wonder that the electorate are either reaching for the piano wire or for another large bottle of high-proof apathy?

With the current government, the over-ridingly successful media meme is that they are a bunch of out of touch millionaires (not pointing out, of course, that this applies more to the LDs than the Tories). The various posturing and grubby compromises that are a necessary part of coalition government are alien to the British - both media and voter. I suppose the closest we have is the interminably delayed collapse of the Major government over the EU (although that was slightly more principled than, say, anything involving Vince Cable.)

To be honest, I'm less bothered about utter integrity in my politicians than I am about basic competence. Get them to start showing some of the latter and I, personally, couldn't give a stuff about how rat-arsed people get in the conference bar (or whose rooms people end up in.) But, then, I'm an actual liberal.

I would point out that one of the problems for the majority of the current soft-right soft-liberal government is the tagline "Conservative". Which is generally expected to be neither as soft-right as this lot are and, for much of the base, far less liberal.