Thursday, January 09, 2014

Treating people with respect

I doubt if there was a pact between the Conservatives and Labour to "Quieten Down" Prime Minister's Questions this week. But an agreement that politicians should try to treat each other with a bit more respect would not entirely be a bad thing.

There are a number of reasons why public respect for politicians is at an extremely low level. Some of it is because of behaviour by some politicians which, alas, does not deserve respect, of which this was the most recent example.

However, most people involved in politics are not corrupt.

The point about a democracy is that we all have one vote and if democracy is working properly those voters who also stand and run for office should in a real sense be seen as the equals of those who participate only as voters. "Pravda" like subservience to political leaders and Paxman-style disdain are neither of them particlarly healthy because it impedes proper debate whether politicians are seen as superior or if they are treated with contempt (and all the more harmful if the contempt is deserved - although in that case it is the people who earned the contempt, not those who feel it, who should be blamed.)

Over Christmas John Rentoul wrote an amusing piece on the top misused fables which you can read here. Another such fable, one of the late Bob Monkhouse's most amusing jokes - that the only time politicians tell the truth is when they are calling each other liars - is in my experience almost the reverse of the truth.

In both the parliamentary campaigns which I have fought, and in my local government experience, the time when otherwise largely honest politicians showed themselves least likely to be fair and truthful was when they were attacking their opponents.

Ever since Tony Blair and New Labour set out to systematically trash the reputations of their opponents, particularly their Conservative ones - one of two of whom deserved it, many of whom did not - the politics of personal destruction has dominated the language of political debate. And on, I'm afraid, all sides.

How can we expect the public to respect the people involved in politics if both the established political parties and "anti-politics" ones like UKIP are all constantly depicting our opponents as idiots or crooks?

Another good piece by John Rentoul over Christmas summarising some of the recent debate on this subject is here.

In the recent past political activists have felt they have to trash their opponents because the perception has been that it works. I'm not convinced that it still does as many voters seem to be sick of the nasty type of politics. Maybe it is time to try to get away from this sort of campaigning. Or at least to dial down the proportion of negative campaigning and restrict it to those who really deserve it.

1 comment:

Jim said...

well PMQ's are nothing but a pantomime of point scoring. Nothing is ever asked and if it is, its never answered its just point after point of pointlessness.

its like watching a punch and judy show, that is not really much of an advert for British politics is it?

take this weeks:

3 questions on flooding came from red ed, who actually knew the answer though he did not want dave to answer honestly, so dave obliged and waffled on about what the government is doing

never once did the actual answer "Any UK government is legally required to improve flood defences under EU Directive 2007/60/EC set by the real govenment" get a mention

Nick smith then asked about companies like apple not paying their "fair share" of tax. Cameron stated he was being unfair.

of course he was, I mean none of them want to say on record, "well, we cant do anything about that as the ability of a company to operate and trade in one country, and have the tax base in another where tax rates are more acceptable, is one of the basic 4 freedoms of the founding treaty of the EU"

so instead we have 30 mins of

"oh, no isn't"
"oh, yes he is"

so the public love the blue puppet instead of the red one, and we get a whole new show next week.

there is the problem with British politics, the problem with British democracy goes far deeper, the problem with British democracy is we don't have it