Political Promise

A Question of Attitude?

In Tomas Christmas on February 8, 2011 at 9:36 am

“The attitudes of politicians need to change if they are to connect with the people they are meant to be serving. At the moment, far too many of them come across as arrogant, self-serving and disconnected from ordinary people.” Tomas Christmas wonders about the motives and interests of our politicians.

In recent weeks and months I have begun watching Prime Minister’s Questions; predictably, the confrontation that initially caught my eye was the one between David Cameron and the leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband. Surely, I thought, two of Britain’s brightest political minds going head to head could not fail to produce an impressive display of rhetoric and intelligent debate? Enclosed in the Commons with a limited public focus, surely the pointless, ‘vote-winning’ jargon would be ignored and these politicians would begin to honestly critique each others ideas, debate constructively, and arrive at a solution in the best interests of the country.

In reality, their exchanges were the complete opposite of this. Occasionally amusing but rarely constructive; at times it was embarrassing to watch. David Cameron’s complete inability to answer direct questions is remarkable. On the rare occasions that Ed Miliband manages to ask a probing question regarding one of the Conservatives’ policies, Cameron will tend to respond by either denying all of the statistics that are forming the case against him and inventing new ones, or simply saying that it is all Labour’s fault. On one occasion the other week, when Cameron was asked why he had not implemented a proposal of bonus disclosure for banks, a concept he seemed to agree with, he said, ‘We want greater transparency, but let me put this to him [Ed Miliband] – he had 13 years to put these rules in place, why did he never get round to it?’ So essentially the response was ‘well you didn’t do it either’.  What a wonderful basis on which to ignore policies. The previous government didn’t do this, so why should we look at it?

Of course, David Cameron embellished his responses slightly with jokes – stating that Ed’s speech was so impressive perhaps he should consider a television career and let his brother run the Labour party instead! This was one of the Prime Minister’s better lines; at this point he’d already made a joke about Alan Johnson being unable to count about five times, and it wasn’t that funny on the first occasion. Of course there’s nothing wrong with a bit of banter, it’s nice for these politicians to remind us that they do have some human qualities, but at times it seems to entirely replace the substance of the debate. And it’s not just the party leaders that bother me – the jeering and cat-calling from the ‘right honourable’ ladies and gentlemen around the room was constantly making me cringe.

My real worry is what this might reveal about the motives of our politicians. As far as I’m concerned, they should be there because they have seen things in society which they believe to be wrong, and they have a drive and a desire to make the country and the world a better place. When I watch many of today’s politicians speaking, I rarely see that passion, that hunger to make things better. When the disappointing economic growth figures were released the other week, did I see huge concern about the unemployed people whose lives had been affected? No, Cameron and Osbourne seemed more interested in shifting the blame and making jokes about the weather.

I think that most politicians would have started their career with the right intentions; I believe that politics is a career that people enter because of a desire to make a difference, but for so many this desire seems to gradually fade. Power will corrupt – and there is so much competition and ambition surrounding the top jobs in politics that a sense of self-preservation and promotion may well take over. Politicians are quick to take credit when things go well and even quicker to shift the blame when things go badly.

The bitterness of the rivalries between parties also causes problems. Of course the parties have different ideologies, but they are not nearly as different as they often make out and ultimately they all wish to achieve similar things. At times there seems to be a complete refusal (both Labour and the Conservatives are guilty of this) to agree in any way with something that the other party says. Political point scoring is prioritised over achieving the best outcome for the country. For example, Labour readily acknowledges that the future of the economy is reliant to a certain extent on confidence; the willingness of consumers to spend and willingness of businesses to take risks. Why then are they so intent on shattering that confidence by insisting so vehemently that all of the Conservative’s policies are destined to completely destroy the economy? Of course it’s good that they hold a different view, they are in ‘opposition’ after all, but they could air their disagreements in a far more constructive way. They should still be free to give their opinions (perhaps even more so than they are now, with ‘on message’ parties constraining the views of individuals), but some form of co-operation, some acknowledgement that they are all on the same side would go a long way.

The attitudes of politicians need to change if they are to connect with the people they are meant to be serving. At the moment, far too many of them come across as arrogant, self-serving and disconnected from ordinary people. I want to see individuality, bravery and humility. I want to see emotion, passion and determination. Next time I watch Prime Minister’s Questions, I want to see a room of people working together for the good of our country.

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