I still don’t know what party to vote for. There are a number of reasons for this. So far, I’ve found that we tend to vote on instinct rather than reason, and even if we consider ourselves non-partisan, we simply prefer whoever looks least incompetent.
However, even if a few individuals in a political party commend themselves to me from time to time, there’s still the problem of the others to whom they’ve hitched their political careers.
One charge laid against politicians is that they are hypocrites. It turns out that this may well be true, and that it seems to be unavoidable. Even so, anyone who trusts a politician who appears to sincerely support an institution or policy could well be forgiven for feeling they’ve been played for a fool when that trust is betrayed. It should be pointed out that media spin plays a part in this; and sometimes the ultimate outcomes of political processes aren’t always easy to follow.
Worse than the hypocrites are the criminals who can be found even in old and very large democracies. In the UK, MPs are four times more likely to have a criminal record than the general population (twice as much for the House of Lords). It’s vital for the justice system to treat politicians the same as the rest of the population.
This larger proportion of criminals may or may not be related to narcissism, the need for attention and admiration from others; status, power and dominance. This narcissism must be at odds with the precarious career of the politician (perfectly summarised in Jeremy Paxman’s 2002 book, The Political Animal), dependent upon impressing enough people to be selected to stand for a party, then to win the election, and to become a junior minister.
What qualifies them to be ministers in particular departments? In the UK, many will have acquired a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, which is no guarantee they won’t be willfully ignorant of more technical subjects such as science, or the implications of enacting poorly-defined laws, or even that they’ll have any interest or understanding of evidence (there are many reasons for this). Instead, it seems depressingly inevitable that you could end up with ministers who lack the education and experience to run a hamster wheel, let alone a major government department. On the other hand, qualifications and experience are no guarantee of effectiveness either; one can only hope that such ministers are aware of their own limitations.
I’m not sure I can completely agree with Enoch Powell’s maxim that “all political careers end in failure”, but I do have to wonder how much an individual, who could enter a political career hoping to make things better, ends up being compromised – by the demands of appealing to fickle media, by the demands of the electoral cycle, and by the demands of a much larger party, to whom they must show support, even if it means going against their own instincts. (Political parties are a subject for another blog post – to be continued).
For now, I’ll just conclude with the merry thought that no politician stays in their job forever – and sometimes, they can get a bit annoyed when this fact is pointed out to them.