current affairs

Do good people flinch from securing public office?

“Recent evidence suggests that in America, especially, charlatans prosper on the hustings, while good people flinch from exposing themselves to the humiliations and deceits essential to secure public office.” — Max Hastings in the Financial Times

An interesting column from Max Hastings on what we expect from our political leaders. Particularly in times of crisis they can appear rather lacking – the disappointments of Obama, the weasle words of Cameron, the phoney glitz of Sarkozy.

Hasting makes the assertion I quote above, a theme I see occurring more often in the comment pages. It would be interesting to get some data on this. How many people have been put off going for high public office due to the pressure, career risks and media scrutiny? (Of course how many of those are ‘good people’ would be harder to define.) Some might suggest the media glare is positive as it makes those with dark secrets reconsider. Perhaps but there are plenty, like John Edwards in the US or Mandelson in the UK, who ploughed on despite their skeletons in closets.

Without data to back up the view that charlatans proceed into politics I will beg to differ on such generalisations. But it’s interesting to note how many politicians have felt they deserved perks, extra pay and expenses by ‘working the system’ wherever they have been based. A sense of entitlement rather than service has grown amongst some. That is a problem.

Additionally I think many politicians are getting skewered by the awful political tactic of ‘triangulation’. They now have too many masters to please, too many promises to keep and having triangulated one too many times so that nobody quite knows what they stand for.

Easily said because I’m sure in the heat of a national election campaign the temptations are many to please each interest group you meet. But look at the mess we’re in now. Far better to be honest about your intentions.

Manifestos are one way to keep politicians honest, but they can’t respond to changing circumstances like global financial crunches. Crises really do depend on the character of those elected. And frankly I don’t think there are many great characters currently holding high office in this country at the moment.

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