Within a democracy, a healthy distrust of politicians is absolutely necessary. Those who wield power need to be held to account and the system doesn’t work if the government is simply thought by the public to be doing the best job possible, regardless. However, I think we’ve gone too far on the spectrum the other way; we’ve come to demonise politicians, and here’s why I think that has so many negative consequences we don’t speak about enough.
The first one should be obvious: we end up with actual assassinations of politicians. The murder of Jo Cox should have been a wake up call for everyone in this respect, yet some of the very unfortunate anti-politician responses to the Manchester incident demonstrates that it hasn’t changed opinions in this regard. Politicians are not less likely to be physically attacked these days; they are in fact more likely to be in harm’s way due to the fact that their exposure to the public is far greater. Yet this doesn’t seem to be how large sections of the population think about it.
The other thing the demonisation of politicians does is it means that talented people will find the job of being an MP less attractive. This works as a negative feedback loop: the more politicians are demonised, the less good people want to go into frontline politics, which means the quality of the Commons gets worse, leading to more demonization of politicians, and so on. One of the reasons we have Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn as the leaders of the two biggest parties is that there is no one obviously brilliant waiting in the wings to take over either the Conservative or Labour parties. David Miliband has been elevated to God-like status since he left British politics, yet I remember how constantly derided he was for not being quite up to the job, what with all the banana related gaffes, failed coups and the fact that he supposedly didn’t “speak human”. Someone like Gordon Brown, who near the end of his premiership looked to the nation slightly hopeless, walks the Earth as a sort of political colossus these days, such is the unfavourable comparison between his leadership and anyone who has followed him.
The worst thing is, I have no idea what the solution to this problem is. Telling people to be nicer to politicians is daft, obviously, and the anger seems genuine anyhow, whatever the motivation underlying it. I, sadly, only see this problem getting worse over the next decade, but I hope I’m wrong.
I also think the demonisation of politicians has spilled into demonising politics. Politics – at its best – is a debate about how to make people’s lives better. Even though it inevitably always falls short of that ideal, the concept appears to have been forgotten. Which is also negative for all the same reasons
Phil Beesley says
People demonise. House sellers demonise the estate agent trying to get the best price for them; house buyers demonise the estate agent trying to get a deal done.
All local politicians are useless; except for the *last* one who achieved something for me by writing a letter; the previous one who made a fuss in the Council Chamber made no difference.
Often, people don’t have enough information to determine between demons and heroes.
Unfortunately populism cannot now be put back in the bottle.