When Guido first started this blog he took the view that politicians were held in too high esteem, that they considered themselves to be the ruling class rather than public servants and that the media far from being feral was too tame in its treatment of politicians. That was part of the motivation for starting the blog. From time-to-time the Peter Riddells, Sir Michael Whites and Polly Toynbees of the world complain that it is impossible to report on politics well if you start from the position that they are all scoundrels and have no sympathy for politicians or the practise of politics. Sometimes they specifically addressed that criticism directly to Guido.
Guido never said all politicians are greasy-pole climbing, self interested scoundrels. He does however have a suspicious mind and this is basically his default view until proven otherwise. It takes a certain kind of egoism to want to be a politician. The louder they claim it is because they “want to make a difference”, the tighter you should grip your wallet.
The more you meet politicians, the more you realise that they are not as others. For the ambitious climbing the greasy-pole is all, life for them is a non-stop reality TV show, with power and all its trappings as the prize. Political self-interest is their supreme motivation. Policy is a tool of partisan self advancement, slogans are stepping stones to power and the public is to be manipulated for votes in a democracy of spin. These politicians are really dangerous.
For those who realise that becoming an MP is probably the upper limit to their achievements there are broadly two types; the good constituency MP and the porcine politicians.
The “good constituency MP” is the stuff of legend, furthering his voter’s interests, dealing with their problems with a staff well versed in welfare issues, righting wrongs and often acting as the counsel of last resort to people suffering at the hands of the massive bureaucratic state that politicians created in the twentieth century. They may take on non-partisan causes which are in the public interest – John Hemming’s work on child protection springs to mind, protecting children from social workers and legal indifference.
In contrast the “porcine politician” is contemptible. So long as they keep their local newspaper happy and don’t get caught shagging the intern they are a lifelong burden on the taxpayer and little use to anyone but the party whips. Generally they want a quiet life, the occasional junket to the West Indies to “study” efforts to combat global warming will suffice. If they are not the type to know their interns carnally they may employ the wife to supplement the housekeeping. Exploiting the car mileage allowance yet claiming for two first class return train tickets every week, claiming a second mortgage allowance despite their constituency being on the London Underground and charging the full daily subsistence food allowance (no receipt required) are all par for the course. If they are particularly greedy, helping out lobbyists can be rewarding.
Sometimes a porcine politician does good things, sometimes a usually decent constituency MP gets caught with his hand in the till or on top of a research assistant. These are of course generalisations.
It seems to Guido that the public has an innate wisdom, it knows this and it knows it is being spun, but is too weary of politicians to care. Too busy getting on with their lives to be bothered about politics. Unfortunately the politico-media nexus is too lazy or too embedded in the Westminster Vilage to try to change things for them. Imagine you are Sir Michael White, thirty years in the Lobby, having spent most of your writing career rubbishing good journalist’s stories on behalf of unattributable sources. Those sources are your claim on the front-page. You are not going to jeopardise them and tear up your meal-ticket to Shepherds. Therein lies the problem. Until the media changes from reporting what they are spun to always questioning the behaviour and motivations of politicians, we will be cursed with the political class we have. The current orgy of politician bashing is however a good start.
Newsnight seems to be on top of the zeitgeist, night after night Crick and Grossman have been unveiling political skullduggery, Hencke at The Guardian, Sam Coates on The Times and Chris Hope on the Telegraph and a few others seem keen to tell it like it is, so hopefully like sharks they will get a taste for political blood. Politicians will then out of self interest temper their ways.
It will require us first seeing a few politicians jailed pour encourager les autres. The people want it. Give the people what they want and it might even do wonders for newspaper circulation.