What to Ask of our Political Leaders

 

We cannot all be experts on every issue and most of us are time-constrained. We elect a government to work full-time on our behalf because we don’t have the time, the interest or the knowledge to do all that ourselves. We want governments to respect our values as a society and to help us build the kind of nation we want to be.

For this democratic system to work we have to have basic economic and political literacy, and a minimum level of engagement in the political process, but we also have to have faith and trust in both the ability and the motivation of the government to act appropriately on our behalf.

This trust has broken down. Our view of politicians amounts to a cynical, not very funny, joke. The breakdown is, in fact a by-product of the neoliberal ideology that justifies anything that makes an individual rich! ‘Tricky Dicky’ has somehow become a ‘smart guy’ to be ruefully admired rather than disdained. We need to re-establish sincerity and trust. In this regard the legal system might well be a useful tool to protect the integrity of governance.

It is important to realise that this ‘greed-based’ outlook is not ‘human nature’. It is a grotesque system that praises and rewards grotesque values, such as robbing from the people by escaping taxes and siphoning money out of pension funds into the wife’s unnamed, offshore account. Neoliberalism predicted almost unbridled individual greed to be a positive driving force to the benefit of the entire nation. By now the evidence has proved that not to be the case.

Many of us see ourselves as existing as part of a wider community, therefore, I would argue, it is in such terms that the success or failure of government policy should be measured.  As part of a wider community an individual wants to see good social services so that disease and crime don’t spread, jobs and housing for family, friends and neighbours, and a foreign policy not based on making money out of wars that lessen our collective security, destroying the livelihoods of others, bringing about increased problems of mass migration. Economic success or failure should be measured not just in terms of economic growth but also in terms of the distribution of income, the provision of services and the outcomes for real people, for example, in life expectancy data.

Many Labour voters were convinced by the heady days of Blair’s ‘electability’. Today there are many who feel that ‘electability’ is a fraud, that ‘message’  and ‘values’ rather than ‘electability’ have to be the key to Labour Party campaigns.

Jeremy Corbyn ‘message’ was what was totally convincing to existing Labour Party members and to the thousands more who signed up in support of him during the leadership election.  Corbyn won the contest purely and simply on the basis of his ‘message’ to the membership.

The trouble is we have become used to ‘Mickey Mouse’ politics. That’s ok, we just have to unlearn it, and we will. Corbyn, as he says, is part of a new type of politics. That is something to be welcomed.  Democracy and justice slip away all too easily and quickly from any nation and any society. There is every reason to fear the divisiveness that politics and economics can bring about. An MP  has recently been shot dead. Hate crime is on the rise. People trafficking is a modern day issue, and modern forms of slavery are also on the increase.

Life has become extreme. The so-called centre has moved very far to the right since Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister. Where we find ourselves today is not what Thatcher meant by ‘competition’. This is not competition; it is a corporate takeover of parliament and of consumer choice. We are pawns, victims and followers, rather than leaders and decision-makers. The level of inequality is very extreme. The level of tax evasion is extreme. The harm to our social services is extreme. The inhumanity of our foreign policy is extreme.

The average life expectancy of the rich exceeds that of the poor by about ten years. Social mobility is declining. Social services are in decline. Foreign policy makes money for the arms industry but worsens security and migration. Financial instability is endemic in the system and makes money for the rich, (in good times and bad) but impoverishes the economy by lessening real investment in productivity growth, in secure jobs and in living standards. To sustain profitability workers rights are constantly diminished. Strikes become almost illegal, contracts more and more biased in favour of the employers. The tax system is unfair, unjust, open to abuse. Those who might reform it are the same as those who profit from it.
It takes time to work out what had gone wrong, and to find solutions for the future. Time is a luxury we have little off, and yet it is essential to achieving the new kind of politics that Corbyn speaks of. Smart suits, sound bites, even financial backing, will not cut the mustard. So forget asking yourself whether or not a soft-spoken, grey-haired, old man in worn out clothes is loud and punchy enough to take on parliament. Sit down, sit tight,  and stay with the message. It is the only way to achieve real change. It is time for a new type of politics. This is what we must ask of our political leaders.

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