It’s not an original view, I know – but Polly Toynbee writes some rubbish, doesn’t she? Here she is telling us we should respect MPs more.
In my experience, most politicians are surprisingly decent people. And I include those of all parties whose views I strongly disagree with.
But wouldn’t MPs be on their best behaviour when meeting a journalist? And why do motives matter anyway? The essence of social science is the law of unintended consequences – good people, acting for good motives, can do bad things. Is the proportion of decent people among MPs higher or lower than the proportion of decent people within the general public? And what makes Polly think she’s a good judge of character?
I’ll grant that the two MPs I’ve known tolerably well – Ruth Kelly and David Miliband – have been good people. But I wouldn’t draw inferences from a biased sample of 0.3% of a population. And there's a world of difference - which Polly ignores - between liking someone and giving them power. And neither ever gave me a good reason why they wanted to be MPs; “it’s just an urge you have” was the best Ruth could do.
Most of those who reach ministerial rank are clever and energetic people who would have done far better for themselves in any other profession.
What’s the evidence? Sure, ex-ministers have gone on to make a few bob. But that’s only trading on their contacts. The only recent minister to have done very well for himself before becoming a minister was Geoffrey Robinson. Follow link for evidence of his surprising decency.
Even if they are lucky enough to get a ministry, they discover how hard it is to change anything or make anything happen. Where is power? Even prime ministers arriving at the very summit find power elusive, and events hard to control.
Welcome to the real world, Polly. We anti-managerialists have been saying for years that central government doesn’t have the know-how or power to improve society. But doesn’t this just show that people who say they become MPs to improve the world are either idiots or liars?
Moments of gratification of pride or vanity are far outstripped by wearisome committees and, worst of all, having to vote for things they don't agree with because democracy demands a measure of party solidarity.
Eh? At the last election New Labour won the support of 21.6% of the electorate. Why does democracy require that its diktats be obeyed? And should we really feel sorry for grown adults who haven’t got the spine to stand up for what they believe?
It certainly behoves those of us who write about them to pause for a moment now and then, adopt a little humility and remember they are the ones out there trying to get things done, while we just shoot them down and carp at them from our extremely secure, non-risk-taking perches in the comfortable press gallery of life.
Has she lost her mind? It’s us tax-payers who are taking the risks. It’s us who pick up the bills for the failure of almost any IT project you care to name*. It’s us whose freedoms are at risk. And it’s MPs who retire on a generous, safe pension.
Most politicians are not venal - and we need them.
Only up to a point. Many political decisions that need to be taken – which are only a subset of those that are taken - can be done through referenda. Why does Polly not have the imagination to see this?
What’s going on here is something typical of Polly’s mindset – a cringing deference for the state and those who aspire to control it.
And the real tragedy is – she is considered to be on the “left”.
* Thanks Justin.