25 March 2006

"Must Politics Disappoint?"

I went to a Fabian meeting last night (I know sad git on a Friday night!). Dr Meg Russell (previously PA to Robin Cook) outlined her ideas in her Fabian pamphlet "Must Politics Disappoint?".

The basic thrust of her argument is that the current disenchantment with politics is mainly because a consumerist, individualist (I want it all) society and a bloodthirsty media put unrealistic demands on politicians and that politicians actually encourage this by raising unrealistic expectations that must inevitably be dashed. Also the concentration on negative campaigning (both by the media and political parties) is destroying the reputation of actually quite decent (on the whole) politicians. It also is encouraging the attitude that all politicians 'are the same', when anyone who studies politics in depth will know that this is still far from the truth.

Dr Russell argued that (although not opposed to PR, constitutional, media and party funding reform, etc), she thinks the underlying problem goes much deeper and is more embedded in our culture and difficult to cure.

My own thoughts are that Russell's argument is ok as far as it goes, but when it came to offering solutions she seemed quite vague. She just seemed to propose that politicians need to be more honest about their limitations, indepth about their policies and there should be more consensual politics between the parties and less negative campaigning. What she failed to recognise is that it is the current system that largely drives this politician and media behaviour - change the system and politicians campaigning will improve.

Of course, constitutional and electoral reform will only help so much, we can't ignore the fact that globalisation is eroding our democracy and that power is seeping more and more to multinational corporations. The only way to combat this is at a global and regional level, which is why we need to make the EU and world bodies more democratic and give them real powers to rein in multinational corporations.


  1. consumerist, individualists eh? So it's our fault?

    And what about lying, cynical, bullying, dogmatic politicians? What about a prime minister who went to war on a lie (well, several, actually)? What about the electorate waking up to the fact that no matter who they vote for, the government always gets in and the colour of the rosette is meaningless? What about the abject betrayal of principle? Whatever happened to the ethical foreign policy, for example?

    I suggest Meg Russell looks a little closer to home for the answer to the disconnect between the electorate and politicians before she starts passing the buck.

    One thing I've learned in the past twenty-odd years of involvement in politics is that the only way politicians will not disappoint is if you expect them to. Then, when they live down to expectations, I'm not disappointed...

  2. "What about the abject betrayal of principle? Whatever happened to the ethical foreign policy, for example?"

    This is a good example of what Meg Russell is getting at (though I entirely agree with you that she was trying to unjustifiably pass the buck and make it somehow partly the public's fault).

    The ethical foreign policy was a laudable aim, the whiter than white on sleaze was a laudable wim but they were impossible to achieve and it was foolish of political parties to propose it and for people to believe them. However in foreign policy (under Robin Cook) some ethical progress was initially made and party funding is CLEANER than it has EVER been despite the recent sleaze.

    Russell is arguing that both politicians and the public need to be more realistic about policy objectives.

    But what she fails to realise, is that it is impossible unless we change the way parties are funded, have constitutional, media and electoral reform. We also need to strengthen regional and global democratic controls on multi-nationals to halt the long term decline.