A Little Bit of Politics

A Little Bit of Politics


Kitchener by Polari.

It will be nice to return to the original point of this trusty blog, dear reader.  I want to tell you about the interesting people I’ve been meeting.  And I will.  But something’s been on my mind.

In a few months we’re going to have a General Election in Britain.  Every day until then, people will say it’s either time for a change or that the current Government should stand by their record.  The current crop of politicians stand accused of being amongst the most rotten in living memory.  If you’re looking to blame something on someone these days, the chances are (if it’s not a banker) it might as well be a Member of Parliament.

Here’s the problem;  The expectations we have of politicians are WAY out of line with what they should be.  To help explain myself, I’ve developed an analogy, though I warn you, it isn’t perfect;

If the country was a school, then what role do you think the politicians would play?  I’ll tell you what I think;

The janitors.

This isn’t to say that janitors aren’t important.  They are.  Extremely.  They have to ensure that the school is structurally safe, that the heating works, that people can use it every morning.  Of course, the janitors don’t make the decisions and so my analogy falls down here.  The mistake we make is to think instead that the politicians are the teachers or the pupils. That we should be looking to them to make the changes which lead to the school or country or world we want to live in.  They won’t.  They can’t.  They do not, and should not have the power to make this a great country.  They are an important part of making it great, but they do not have the power to ensure that it is, nor should they or do they lead its greatness.

All of the time, at the moment, we’re making this mistake. Imagine there is a lot of litter on the common.  We blame the council.  The council did not drop the litter.  Members of the public dropped the litter.  A school slips down a league table.  We blame the Government.  They didn’t sit the exams.  The pupils, teachers and parents all share responsibility for the results.

The main stream media are having a major love-in with politicians of both parties, and no good will come of it.  Perhaps it’s because they are interested in each other’s jobs.  Perhaps it’s because they work near each other in London.  Maybe it’s because they rely on each other for their very survival.  Is it easier to fill the time with tales of party political intrigue than going and finding something which is actually making a difference?  Whatever.  It’s ruining everything for everyone.  We’re sitting back and watching the country pick a fight with the janitor because the school is failing.  We need to wake up a bit.

The irony is that the elected MPs are only the thinnest layer of the political system.  Why aren’t we paying attention to the work that the millions of other public servants are doing?  Why are so many of the civil service seemingly banned from speaking in public?

Who is covering the latest innovations in business?  Who is shining a spotlight on the breakthrough techniques of social enterprise?  No-one.  Because they are all too busy gazing into the eyes, or beating up (depending on whether the camera is rolling) the MPs.

I’ve been to Downing Street.  I’ve met leading politicians of both main political parties.  I don’t speak for any of them.  I probably shouldn’t write about it.

We need to focus on the people who can actually change the way a country works.  Just in case I haven’t told you how I see this (I’ll stop in a minute), let me put it this way;  Politicians cannot change a country.  Not really change it.  Teachers, business people, parents, community leaders, social entrepreneurs, retired people and EVERYONE currently watching and listening as the politicians get the blame.  That’s who can and should make the changes.  We’re sleepwalking into a bleak decade if we carry on projecting the wrong expectations onto the wrong people.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some networking to do.

Lord Kitchener by Brian Damerell.

3 Replies to “A Little Bit of Politics”

  1. Same message I give people in The States, Oli. Our government, both parties, has become so ineffectual (and corrupt) that their ability to effect change is near zero.

    The only way the world will change is when its citizens make those changes, but too many want an easy out, and they want politicians to pass legislation that will fix all our problems.

    We both know that’s not going to happen any time soon.

  2. Oli

    Thoughtful stuff and I am sympathetic. Change in our society is up to us, we all have to take responsibility for what we do, and make it work, but I do agree the media narrative tends to focus obsessively on figureheads in the form of senior politicians, but also bigger businesses more than they should given we live in a society where many people get through the day without worrying about either.

    However, government, when deployed well, can make everybody better off and is important. While there is a legitimate debate as to where boundaries of it should be – we need it to work, and in some areas it is our only option.

    I say this as a prelude to the value of politicians. Good politicians can help make sure the direction of travel is in line with one broadly supported by the public – and challenge those who actually need to deliver it to follow through. That includes us the wider public sometimes – I am sure I am not the only one who has been personally inspired to make small changes as a result of being challenged to do so by a politician.

    We also really need to hold those with power accountable, and politicians should in theory have the skills and incentives to be good at that, but in the UK, it is way lower than in other systems. I always found it quite remarkable that I would work on a policy area, where members of the team, would debate amougst themselves which options would really work or be worth the hassle. And then once announced – remarkably little challenge from outside, or indeed even tricky questions, MPs don’t generally want to annoy ministers, opposition MPs for the most part seem to find getting stuck into much detail boring, interested pressure groups generally want to be seen as constructive, while academics tend to quickly go back to their research.

    But it is amazing how often the media narrative simply ignores most of the substance. I have seen basic mistakes be corrected in the hundreds of millions of pounds, with no comment whatsoever, with front page drama over lobbying over much smaller sums. I’ve often seen papers, that took months of careful work by civil servants and ministers to produce, setting detailed plans for change, with the evidence for the options discarded as well as chosen, committing huge sums of OUR money – and get almost zero mainstream media coverage, outside perhaps of a small story in inside pages of the FT, which I think should get a partial honourable exemption from your comments, as it covers business quite well as well, at least the bigger fish, although it takes time to catch up with real innovation.

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