Tuesday, 30 June 2009

What Hope is There for Politics

The MP's expenses scandal and the credit crunch have thrust the behaviour and performance of politicians into the limelight perhaps more than in living memory. Everyday television debates and radio phone-ins discuss whether our politicians can be trusted to do the right thing and look after our interests.

Regrettably I have come the conclusion that politicians cannot be trusted to do the right thing and the party political system has had its day. Why? Not because because all politicians are morally bankrupt, but rather because of a fundamental conflict of interests that lies at the heart of the party political system. Allow me to explain.

Most politicians would say that they entered politics because they wanted to change things for the better and for the most part I believe them. However, somewhere along the way this motivation morphed in to something far less altruistic and honourable: the pursuit of power. So how did this happen?

For a politician to achieve their ambition of “changing things for the better” they first need to get into a seat of power (e,g, councillor or member of parliament) because if they're not in power they can't change anything. Similarly if one a politician achieves a position of power they need to do everything they can to keep that position of power, because once they're voted out of their seat they are powerless again. So in order to “change things for the better” first you need power.

All of which means that the altruistic goal of “changing things for the better” must become subservient to the pursuit of power. Now these two goals are so different that they can't really coexist – as our hopeless party political system ably demonstrates. You can do one or the other, but not both, because the pursuit of power discourages integrity and changing things for the better demands integrity.

And here is where it gets nasty. Recent years have seen the emergence of spin and an ever increasing trend of nonconstructive criticism of anything the opposition do or say, no matter whether they are right or wrong. Similarly the political parties now make increasingly populist policy announcements that their have neither the finances nor the gumption to put into practice. All of which is driven by a desire to make the opposition look bad and to make “our party” look good with no regard for whether what is said is true or not.

So what we're left with is a party political system which is first and foremost about getting into and then holding onto power, which means that “changing things for the better” comes at best a very very distant second. So how do you think senior politicians split their time between “changing things for the better” and “the pursuit of power”? 10/90? 20/80? I'd be surprised if the ratio was any better than that.

Our politicians can't afford to the the right thing because they're afraid that if they do they loose that narcotic they struggled for years to attain – power!