What kind of politicians do we want
We trust people who we think have a good record of doing the right thing and getting the right results. Over the last 50 years the length of that record has shortened from a generation – roughly 25 years – to, well, you guess. Perhaps one year, perhaps less. The absolute figures don’t matter. It’s the frightening diminishing of timescale that counts. Political memories have nearly disappeared. I notice the critics of the Johnson government in the UK were railing against any suggestions of lockdown six weeks ago. Those same people are today calling the same politicians to account for why they took so long to introduce the containment measures.
Politicians, you may think, are fair game for any criticism. Well, they shouldn’t be. We voted for them so it is our judgment that placed them there. If they screw up it means that, at least to some extent, we screwed up. Anyway, I don’t want to think of my politicians as coconut shys, people to be on the receiving end of my frustrations. I want them to be my representatives at the seat of decision making. I don’t want to be patronised by them anymore than I want to patronise them.
What kind of politician will work best as we emerge from the perils of coronavirus? It has to be the question of the moment. Confident, certainly, but confident with the humility that true confidence brings with it. Strong, too, but strong as in the centre of a tug of war, not just on one side of it. A person of stature, that elusive quality that really great people have without being self-conscious about it. All these pre-suppose high intelligence with substantial emotional intelligence to match. A world economy has to be nursed back to health. The ability to do so is a rare gift.
What kind of politicians are we likely to get? Aye, there’s the rub. Pre-virus the world was already divided by wealth and greed. The generous outpourings of help to those in trouble are testament to goodwill and a modest recognition of the appalling unfairness of a globalised planet. Alas, the implosion of the United States and its aggressive attitude to China bodes ill for relations between the two as the economic struggle re-engages. Since they represent the world’s future for the next one hundred years we would rather it were not so.
The re-election of President Trump will echo around the globe as a signal for unbridled competition, the exact opposite of what recovery and the new capitalism need. Call it cooperation instead of globalism if you like, they both mean the same thing. ‘Make America great again’ means the opposite – less cooperation. There is now a real risk that we shall see politicians of a narrow, chauvinistic view who incite fear as their political platform. Politicians are not there for fear. They are there for hope. A society led by Chauvin will not flourish in the next century. I think President Macron realises that, too. It is the best hope for a United Europe if he does.
But the aim must now be for a United World. We have discovered how truly global we are by courtesy of the internet. Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp and many others have shown us how to step into each other’s hearts, if not yet quite into our homes. Locked up, unable to congregate, we have nevertheless been in touch with our families, our friends and our work associates, possibly even more than normal. Learning the 2020 story of Soweto from friends living in Johannesburg makes it clearer than any video talk. Listening to my cousins’ views in the USA on what is happening there explains their situation, even if it still leaves yawning gaps in my understanding. Hearing the reasons why Jacintha Arden is emerging as a great politician from Kiwi friends is better than all the articles that could ever be published about her.
So what do we seek in our political masters for post-virus common sense?
Top of the list must be leadership. We have very few good leaders now. There are some, and their countries generally show the benefits. But where are our international leaders? Where are those figures like Kennedy, Adenaur, Churchill, Gandhi, Lincoln? Where are the leaders like F.W.de Klerk and Nelson Mandela reconciling their torn countries by talking to each other? Recent history shows us voting for more aggressive, localised, competitive leadership. Of course there is competition but it should not be the sort that sees others lose; rather it should see ourselves win.
You may end up gasping for breath with laughter at my next suggestion. We need politicians who care – not for their own political power or ambition but for their constituents. Actually, we have many like that already. Few of them get to the top. Caring is no soft option. In fact it is the toughest of all systems to apply whether to a start-up, to an established business or to a country.
If constituents will tell their politicians simply and clearly what their principles of life are and how they would like those to be applied to the political system we can have politicians who will care.
Go to where the silence is and say something
investigative journalist, columnist and author (b. 13 Apr 1957)