Saturday, 7 June 2008

Angels and demons....

. I was attracted to a debate on Liberal Democrat Voice regarding Mark Oaten's piece in The Guardian today. I have always been of the opinion that we expect too much of people in public life and in some cases put intolerable pressure on them to perform over and above what we would expect of ourselves. In my view this is in some ways natural; we want to feel that people who legislate for us are somehow our 'betters' because it is reassuring. However, in some ways it is deeply unnatural and damaging to what we do, after all, term a 'representative' democracy.

Politicians are always in a precarious position because being honest once you hold power there is nothing more than to deprive you of it; and power does corrupt. If you run moralising campaigns, like the Conservatives did in the early 90's for example, then you are automatically, and correctly considered 'fair game'. However, showing poor judgement in one area of your life doesn't automatically make you a bad politician; just as you can be appallingly bad at drawing but an amazingly talented writer. Being rubbish at romantic relationships (an affliction they surely effects a major slice of the population), for example, doesn't mean you couldn't negotiate a diplomatic solution to a small war; the two things are different disciplines and require different skills.

The harsh truth is that politics is a trade that doesn't allow people to make mistakes and even if they do then they are not expected to admit as much in public because it is taken as a sign of weakness and seized upon. In any other trade your private life would remain so unless it directly affected your ability to perform the role you were contracted to do and I fail to see why politics should be different. Why should politics be different?? If it is then you are encouraging the sickening process of the 'robotisation' of politics with it being the sole province of non-entities whose relationship with the harsh realities of the frequently 'messed-up' real world is somewhat tenuous. Speaking on a wider-scale you are encouraging alienation from the political process.

Wanting politicians to be messianic paragons of virtue is unrealistic. If they pretend their are and actually aren't then they can expect no less than to be shot down. Expecting them to perform the role that the electorate 'employs' them to and not to abuse that position is realistic. This is why you will find below a startling lack of sympathy for the recently deposed leader of the Tories MEP's - he knowingly abused his position to enrich himself which isn't a failing, it's a conscious choice he made to abuse his position of privilege. I find myself more naturally sympathetic to Mark Oaten - one can debate the wisdom of the choices he made in his personal relationships. You can even say they were unwise and maybe you would be right but that doesn't automatically mean he was bad at his job or his ability to do it was automatically compromised.

We need to stop judging politicians by such high standards and start judging them by human standards.


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