Sunday 24 January 2010

Is Politics Corrupt? or is it corrupted?

Increasingly the view is heard that politics is corrupt. I hear this view expressed when campaigning on the doorstep; on blogs and Facebook, and in media coverage of the political scene. However expressed the basic tenet of this views seems to be that politics itself, by its nature, is corrupt. Therefore - ANYONE involved in politics is just in it for themselves (at best) or seeking to exploit opportunities for self-enrichment. We would be better off without politicians.

Apart from the gross generalisations involved in this viewpoint, and that the only 'solution' is to give up on representative democracy, I don't belief that it is a valid position to take. Amongst people that I have worked with or had experience of, most of the politicians have been readier to put others interests before their own - and are more trustworthy. People really do go into politics to try and make the world a better place - and most of those involved in politics could have gained more money if they had concentrated on working outside politics.

Of course there are exceptions. I met John Stonehouse MP - and he went to jail, but then I've met others who also behaved criminally - and they were never politicians. There are individuals who are selfish, self-centered, and ready to abuse whatever power they have - but I've met plenty of those working in universities (I have been an academic for 20 years); in financial institutions (my first jobs were in a bank and building society); in shops (I've also served in shops); and in churches.
I don't buy the argument that politicians are necessarily corrupt or have corrupt tendencies. Where politicians have committed corrupt acts - or have failed to act in the interest of the people they were selected to represent - their 'partners in crime' have often come from business. We should condemn the ethics of the politician who takes money or favours - but the ethics of some businesspeople must be challenged too. We may hate lobbyists - but they are the middlemen. The attitude that "I have a right to special influence over decision making because I have money" is wrong. MPs, MEPs, Congressmen & Senators should represent business - because company owners; small businesses; employees are constituents - but they are not the only ones. It is not that politics is corrupt, but that money can corrupt the political system and those who are players in it.

The ethics of the legislature are often more stringent than that of the market place. We condemn politicians who "take us to war" (LBJ & Tony Blair for example). Both will be remembered for the wars they took their countries into - and the death and destruction which followed. Their achievements have been overshadowed by that. Yet those in the tobacco industry; or who have pushed foods that have caused cancers; obesity; diabetes are not held to account - and they are responsible for many more deaths.

There is a need to keep the ethics of the marketplace out of politics. That's why I am so disturbed by this week's decision by the Supreme Court. It's why I worry about the increasing need in some countries for politicians to go to private donors to finance their election campaigns.

Our legislators should represent us - and exercise oversight over those who make decisions which affect others (which means oversight of business as well the public sector). If there are people who are prepared to sell goods which may harm or kill their customers - government should be able to regulate. I do worry about the calls from business to reduce government regulation. I don't believe in regulation for regulation's sake (and I regard one of the most important truths to be 'power tends to corrupt.... - and have met many 'jobsworths' who are prepared to push people around; give bizarre interpretations to 'rules'...) - but I see a fundamental reason for having government, is that it should protect people from the violent; the criminal and the unscrupulous.

So, I don't believe that politics is necessarily corrupt. Good honest government is to our benefit. I believe we should always be questioning - always seeking answers to oversight questions - but cynicism is destructive. Something is wrong with modern politics - but a viewpoint that starts with the premise that all politicians are corrupt isn't going to solve anything!