Friday, 16 December 2011

What are politicians for...?

I appreciate that this sort of question raises an endless torrent of sarcasm, cynicism and vulgar repartee but it’s an important question. And one we don’t often ask, preferring instead to wander along in a safe assumption that somehow we need politicians. Which I think rather lets us off the hook and allows us to ramble on about “leadership” even, horror of horrors, “community leadership”.

Frankly I think leadership is a vastly over-rated element of politics. I’m not elected to “lead” but to represent, yet the debate is always about political “leadership” rather than political “representation”. This isn’t to say that politicians shouldn’t lead but it is to observe that leadership is not the purpose of politics or politicians. Yet it remains the obsession of observers – who seem to want a kind of magical spirit of leadership to emanate from politicians:

Yet I couldn’t help think that there was something missing in all the talk of leadership. There were numerous real life and theoretical examples of people ‘doing’ leadership or asking others to show leadership, but I couldn’t help but feel that I was no nearer understanding what Cameron’s definition of leadership is, how it manifests/shows itself and why he thinks the examples that he used demonstrate leadership (as well as what politicians can learn). One of the problems with our body politic at present is that all of those references to leadership could have been sprinkled into the speeches of Ed Miliband or Nick Clegg and none of us would have noticed any different.

What we have here isn’t leadership (and Puffles is right to make that observation), it is representation – people want leadership so our representatives present themselves as leaders. And what we mostly want is one of two things – and often both:

  1. The leaders to take away the problems of our life – be it work, health or relationships. We want it to be “someone else’s problem”; we want the magic government fairy to sort it out. This applies whether you’re a billionaire banker or a poor pensioner
  2. The leaders to fix things for our benefit, to make rules that favour what we do or that stop those things of which we disapprove. Sometimes this is about economic protection, sometimes it is the projection of a moral position but it is always about fixing things so we benefit.

When politicians don’t do this – or do it for someone else and not us – we accuse them of being weak leaders. Yet the irony of such accusations is that the very opposite is true – it takes a real strength (and a willingness to risk electoral defeat) to tell people they can’t have what they are demanding.

None of this is to argue that politicians shouldn’t lead but it is to say that we don’t have politics and politicians for the purpose of leadership – we have politics and (under our system of representative democracy) politicians to resolve dispute. To make the choice between competing policy options, to decide what course of action to take. And the representation bit is important – my member of parliament has the job of representing me (and the sixty-odd thousand other Shipley electors) in that process of choice.

This is representation and, if we opt instead to devolve responsibility for our economic, social and personal well-being to these people, we are making a colossal mistake – we stop being free men and women and become mere supplicants. Wide-eyed beggar brats gazing into the shiny political salon hoping they’ll notice and “do something”. Because of this, politicians have become a peculiar species of social worker – mollycoddling their electors rather than doing the primary job of representing those electors in the making of choices, in the job of politics.

Puffles suggests that the system for choosing politicians (the selection process rather than the election process) is at fault:

One of the paradoxes I find is that some of our political institutions and the practices of political parties end up suppressing leadership rather than encouraging and nurturing it.

I remain unconvinced - so long as we shuffle about like well-fed sheep waiting for the man with the crook or the dog to herd us in their chosen direction, so long as we see the problem as one of leadership, so long as politicians are expected to wet nurse the voter we will have this crisis of leadership.

I look to a world where, to borrow a Marxist turn of phrase, the need for politicians withers away. Some call this a process of apathy, the rebirth of idiots, but I welcome private strength, individual choices and people who want to be free from the “leadership” that politicians are urged to provide.

...the core consideration is the extent to which we are able to live as Greek idiots. Quietly, privately, without bothering our neighbours with our problems – and when such people want change they will get up from their armchairs, walk away from the telly and vote. The idea that not being bothered with voting most of the time makes them bad people is a misplaced idea – they are the good folk.

Above all we should listen quietly to what this “apathy” calls for – it is less bothersome, less interfering, less hectoring and more effective government. Such people want government to be conducted at their level not to be the province of pompous politicians with overblown and lying rhetoric. And they want the language of common sense, freedom, liberty and choice to push away the elitist exclusivity of modern bureaucratic government.

1 comment:

Michael Fowke said...

... reminding normal people how bad humanity can be.