A politician’s purpose

A politician’s purpose

I asked a leading British politician what her purpose was. “To become Prime Minister” was the quick and explicit answer. I persisted with “Why?” “To have more influence with those I govern” was the reply. “A” for honesty, I admit. Personal ambition is acceptable, indeed praiseworthy. Achievement brings benefits both personal and public. To be able to do what is best for the voters, regardless of who they voted for, is a valuable position. Could the answers have been a bit more about “others” and a bit less about self?

The sad spectacle of the American Presidential Election campaign has left many wondering if the US political system – or, indeed, any political system – is working as it was intended to. From 350,000,000 people the best that can be drawn to the top is a lady who seems to have consistently lied about her handling of confidential state information and a man who is ‘not proud’ to have been videoed talking about groping women. The political behaviour of countries from Europe to the Baltic isn’t any better. Oh, dear.

What does the world want of its politicians today? The answer, of course, is miracles. Democracy encourages people to believe that they can get what they want for nothing. A politician who promises the earth for no effort will, if believed, be voted for. It wasn’t always so. Churchill offered “blood, tears, toil and sweat” and was overwhelmingly backed by the electorate but he had a scary enemy to help him. With some notable exceptions, scary enemies of that sort are not now the drivers of most electorates.

A different sort of scary enemy is on the horizon. It is the enemy of work and it is called artificial intelligence. In a capitalist world when people cannot work they become the subject of charity whether a coin dropped in an outstretched hand or a government cheque for the unemployed. Charity does nasty things to you. It belittles you, makes you feel resentful because you are supposed to be grateful. It makes you idle – you cannot receive benefit for being unemployed if you earn money. These two situations together eat your soul.

It is a politician’s duty to lead. S/he must also gauge how assertively it is possible to lead without losing so many votes that they are out of office. This makes some politicians timid and unwilling to lead boldly. This is a time for bold leadership. To enable people to achieve fulfilled lives without work is the biggest challenge our species has yet faced.

To equip a population with the education necessary to be able to work well enough to build a civilised society is a daunting task. To build one with the creativity and ability to appreciate life without the sort of work we are used to is even more difficult. It requires a complete reversal of our values about money and an understanding that what we put into life determines what we get out of it. It calls for a re-think of capitalism, democracy and competition.

Today’s politician’s purpose is clear. Create the environment in which humans understand the gift that life is and are able to live it to the full.

No lesser purpose is acceptable.