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April 15, 2009



In truth, there’s probably (though I’d welcome empirical evidence) no correlation between the sanity of a man’s wife, or his sexual health, and the validity of his opinions on, say, education policy or Europe.

It's not empirical evidence, but the long-held belief that being gay was incompatible with holding public office, or, conversely, was associated with 'subversive' political views, might be of use here. (It's telling that McBride had to try going after Tories for their sexual behaviour rather than, say, their sexual identity - the latter would have looked stupid in the light of the number of gay/lesbian Labour MPs and the legislation passed under the current government, while the former [see the 'extreme' porn and proposed legislation on prostitution] would have been seen as 'fair game')


The missing problem here is Trust.

We the public have to trust those we elect more than we have to understand their arguments, how many times have you heard that the national lottery money should be used to fund the NHS? how many people know what a billion is?

Thus we all substitute the things we don't know for something we use all day long to work out the world "trust"

New Labour have skillfully understood this and manipulated it to stunning advantage until this weekend.

The only possible solution I can offer is what they do in Western Australia, candidates in local elections stand on their own names only, party loyalties and sponsorships are banned. It makes local elections very interesting, a relative of mine standing a few years ago would walk down the street and people would actually ask him questions about what he was standing on and what he was about as they did not have the brand trust of party to relay on.

Another thing that might help is to push politics onto the radio and internet so we dont have to look at their ugly mugs, as they say politics is showbiz for ugly people.


The events you gave as examples were unforeseeable in specifics but not in general. No one could have asked in 2000 "How will the candidates react in the event of the World Trade Center being destroyed by hijacked aircraft?" but they could have reasonably foreseen that a president might have to deal with some sort of foreign policy crisis; and "ability to deal with, ooh, I don't know, a hypothetical civil war in Nigeria" probably correlates rather well with "ability to deal with attack by Afghan-based terrorists".
Where the character-judgement "halo effect" fallacy comes in is here: it's reasonable to assume that (dealing with Nigerian civil war) and (dealing with Afghan-based terrorists) are highly correlated; it's almost as reasonable to assume that (dealing with foreign policy crisis) is well correlated with (dealing with Hurricane Katrina) or even with (dealing with sudden economic crisis); but it's far more dubious that (ability to deal with foreign policy crisis) is correlated with (ability to deal with discovery that his daughter is an alcoholic).

OTOH, I suppose that the character argument is this: I don't know the best response to a Nigerian civil war. I do know that my uneducated guess at the best response might well be the wrong one. But I want my elected leader to respond in what I would think the best way was, had I had the best advice in the country and time to study the issue full time. Therefore, I'm going to elect, not someone whose Nigerian policy is the same as mine - because, as noted above, I am uneducated and possibly wrong - but someone whose character is the same as mine.


"I’m better informed than average on these matters." I wonder; if Macroeconomics is no sounder than Astrology, perhaps you are more informed rather than better informed.


Just as the Smear scandal has revealed rather unpleasant morals of our politicians, the public is not shocked by the alleged content because of the nature of reporting that indulges in perjoratives and assasinations no matter who the target is. I find a lot of Political reporting on characters beyond satire, and, while aggressively amusing, it more often than not holds little or no content.
People complain that the younger generations are disinclined to follow politics and related issues, and this is largely because of this lack of content and continous slating of prevalent characters. The opinions are therefore formed in the majority that all politicians are sleazy upper middle class twats with no conceptions of the common person. Pertaining to this is extensive information on how little things are changed by public activity and an apathy is largely maintained.
For this reason, plus those listed, I would commend a return to policy based political reporting with sensible debate and less unmotivated attack. However amusing it may be.

Bob B

On the character of politicians, a glossy promotional leaflet from my local MP dropped through my letter box just a few days ago. Prominently printed on the cover is an endorsement from a supporter called "Steve". He says, "XXX XXXXX [the MP] is a man of principle."

Please advise. How am I to interpret that endorsement? There is no further illumination as the actual principle(s) which said MP subscribes to nor as to why the MP regards this particular endorsement as worthy of public circulation.

For all I know, the MP may believe in creating a virtuous society, which may seem worthy enough to excite admiration and attract our votes until we recall that is precisely what Roberspierre claimed to believe in too. Few, if any, to my knowledge, complained that Hitler and Stalin lacked principles. Indeed, they evidently believed that they subscribed to sufficient commonality of principles to enable Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union to contract a Friendship Treaty on 28 September 1939:

Otherwise, try Norman Davies: Europe (OUP 1996) p.1000.

Personally, I think we have learned enough from history to be duly suspicious of "men of principle".

Bob B

" . . if Macroeconomics is no sounder than Astrology . . "

If macroeoconomic forecasts are no better than astrology, we can only wonder why so many private sector companies and privately funded think-tanks continue to maintain teams of economists to make regular forecasts of the UK economy.

Helpfully, HM Treasury publishes regular surveys of the better reputed independent forecasts:

Mr. Divine

It stretches my imagination how anyone can be questioned about unforeseeable events. No only can people not imagine them happening but potential pollies can't imagine the possible solutions!

No wonder why it (eh what's that) never happens.


"we can only wonder why so many private sector companies and privately funded think-tanks continue to maintain teams of economists to make regular forecasts of the UK economy."
There again, we can only wonder why so many Roman Emperors continued to maintain teams of soothsayers and entrail-readers to make regular forecasts of the Roman future.

Bob B

The Roman Empire was dependent on the Roman Army and slavery and funded by enforced tribute so emperors could afford to maintain retinues of soothsayers and entrail readers.

The question remains, why does the private sector nowadays take money out of the bottom line of profits and loss accounts to maintain teams of economists to make economic forecasts if the forecasts are useless? Come to that, how do companies plan business investments without making some forecasts of factors affecting demand for their produce and the supplies of inputs?

And why are economists better paid on average relative to most other professions?

Tom Freeman

Isn't there a risk of Goodhart's law, though? If we rely on (our impressions of) their characters too heavily, they'll have a huge incentive to manipulate those impressions, so that it's increasingly hard for us to get any reliable information on the subject.


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ROFL. I don't think many women believe that marital infidelity is irrelevant in weighing up politicians. His own wife and children could not trust him, but the electors can trust him absolutely?

You seem to be suggesting that a politician might exhibit a patchwork of trustworthy and untrustworthy behaviour according to the topic. I think electors would feel this runs counter to the lessons of everyday life. A liar lies on many topics. Someone who "cuts corners" does it in all sorts of contexts. A petty thief picks up unprotected stuff anywhere.

Certainly there may be unknown topics on which someone you thought was trustworthy has hidden reasons for acting unexpectedly. But frankly, if someone who has looked his wife in the eye and lied repeatedly is not totally honest to a stranger, does that qualify as "unexpected"?


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