Monday, 2 March 2009

Political disbelief

There are two schools of thought about politicians. One is that they genuinely care about us, they're doing their best for us, they're basically upright, decent people who put in long hours on a gruelling job.

The other view is that, with a few notable exceptions, they're devious, dishonest rogues who're only interested in winning votes, feathering their own nests and clawing their way to high office.

I tend towards the second view, as I've said before. Jenny tends towards the first view (particularly as she spent four years as a local councillor in London and I have to say was an extremely conscientious and hard-working one).

But having lived through umpteen governments from Clement Attlee onwards, and having been constantly disappointed by broken promises, the yawning chasm between rich and poor, shoddy public services, and inability to confront vested interests, it's hard to give any politician the benefit of the doubt.

What makes it worse is that when challenged on their failures, they usually refuse to admit them and maintain everything is going fine, spouting a load of carefully-chosen statistics to prove it. Oh for a few Obama-style politicians with the courage to say honestly and frankly "Yes, I screwed up."

This trail of incompetence and slipperiness is exemplified by the furore over banker Sir Fred Goodwin's £700,000 a year pension at the age of 50. The pension was signed off by government minister Lord Myners, who apparently hadn't consulted any of his colleagues.

Now the whole country wants the pension cancelled, but it's a contractual agreement that can't be touched. And this deal was okayed not by a bunch of elitist Tories but by a minister in a supposedly egalitarian Labour government. It makes me want to weep and beat my chest with utter disbelief.


  1. Healthy cynicism, as you know Nick, is where I'm at.
    And "I'm from Missouri, show me" stance.
    This has never been more exemplified than by these massive bailouts to the failing industries who shovelled us into the current economic meltdown to begin with.
    Looting the till on the way out the door. This pension being one example of many.
    We are doomed, I tell ya!!

  2. www - Ha, you remind me of Private James Frazer in Dad's Army. Doomed, we're all doomed! But I'm an incurable optimist as you know, I'm sure things will improve again.

  3. I probably take the middle road (no surprises there) I think politicians begin with good intentions but are 'corrupted' by the machine they find themselves in when they reach higher office. It becomes about being in Government rather than representing the people. I heard about the pension but as you say, it's contractual - there should have been something in his contract about reaching appropriate KPI's in order to qualify. Similarly here the CEO of Bonds who have just sacked 1500 workers in order to manufacture off shore has been granted a million dollar payrise! Go figure!

  4. Baino - Exactly, he shouldn't qualify for any financial perks unless he's doing an outstanding job. Measured by KPIs as you suggest (for those in the dark - key performance indicators). And a million dollars for heading a company so useless they have to sack 1500 people? Indeed, go figure....

  5. A plague on all their houses has been my mantra for some time but, as ever, there are exceptions that prove the rule.

    Recently I have had cause to deal with a few constituency MPs with great results. They have written letters, made phone calls, contacted colleagues and ministers and made their staff available to help pursue matters. I will not name names here.

    Unfortunately these people are often not in a position to change things on the larger scene.

    My venom is reserved for the career politician who starts his (yes, unfortunately, still his) career as an official in the (say)National Union of Students and who hitches his horse to what ever bandwagon will help him in his inexorable rise to power.

    We must exclude the late Robin Cooke from this list for he, agree with his politics or not, was a man of principal and honour.

    They do exist in all three main parties. I did say main parties for I' sure more trouble and hatred is stirred up in this country by the small, single issue parties (such as the "Democratic" Unionists) than by any other group of people....Oh! I forgot the Cabinet!

  6. Magpie - Fortunately there are many honourable exceptions who are not so corrupt. There are many excellent MPs and MLAs in Northern Ireland who work very hard for their constituents. As you say, the much-missed Robin Cook was someone of real integrity.

    One ex-NUS careerist who promptly comes to mind is Jack Straw, the British Justice Secretary, who has voiced some amazingly illiberal opinions recently.

  7. Aha! Well there you are.... I had the misfortune to meet him a few times back in those days... I was at National Conference just after the martin Luther -King assassination and as far as I remember no mention was even made of it..... Perhaps a sign of things to come?

  8. Magpie - I can't remember all the odd views he's held, but as you may know he regularly prevents government documents being released under the Freedom of Information Act.

    BTW, I can't access your blog properly at the moment. I get a kind of template but no text. Not a clue what the problem is. Will try again later.

  9. I want to think they start off with good intent but get ... waylaid either by bureaucracy or selfishness.

  10. Liz - I think that's often true. But then if they get waylaid so easily I have to wonder at their basic lack of principle and morality. How do they get sucked into the system so readily?

  11. I'm with Baino; I think most start out with good intentions but stay in the game too long. I don't think politics should be a life-long career - serving people, sure, but holding office, no. I think the best politicians are those who see a problem, step in to be part of the solution and then politely remove themselves from the equation again. When you make a career of it, then like all other careers, you start thinking about connections, advancement, self-promotion, compensation - which can lead to ego.

  12. Nicole - Good point about the best politicians being the ones who devote themselves whole-heartedly to a particular problem. As you say, the careerists start thinking too much of themselves and not enough about the people they're meant to represent.