Are we hypocritical in our expectations of politicians?

(44 Posts)
MrsMerryHenry Wed 18-Nov-09 13:11:04

Two stories this week have made me question this.

(1) Gordy Brown makes U-turn on inane decision to scrap childcare vouchers. Was criticised for scrapping them, now criticised for changing his mind.
(2) Barack Obama takes long time to consider important decision on (Afghanistan? think so - I missed the start of the news report). Criticised for taking his time and not making a quick decision.

What would work better for our nation - a leader who makes snap, crap decisions and then refuses to budge? A leader to makes snap, crap decisions and then admits they were wrong and puts things right? A leader who considers important issues (NB: I am not saying ALL issues) carefully and then makes a (hopefully) wise decision? Was it Dougie Hurd who used to do the latter, and was criticised for taking his time, then once he'd made up he's mind everyone apparently went: 'Oh, yeah, you're right actually.' It was some Tory in the Thatcher era, according to Broadcasting House.

We criticise our politicians for hypocrisy but at the same time we often seem to use astonishing sleight of hand to allow ourselves to be just as hypocritical - just so we can carry on finding things to criticise. Would we accept this sort of behaviour from our children??! I jolly well wouldn't - it would mean 2 minutes on the naughty step and Chuggington banned for a whole day.

(By the way, I am not making a statement about the outcome of the decisions of the politicians I've mentioned; rather, I'm discussing our expectations of the decision-making process. Oh, and anyone who wants to facetiously say 'would you want a slow decision-maker leading us through a war?' - I've already dealt with that in my 'NB' point above.)

edam Wed 18-Nov-09 14:13:46

The U-turn thing really annoys me as it must discourage them for admitting they stuffed up. If a politician actually listens to criticism I think that is A Good Thing.

As for Obama taking his time, I think it depends at what point you think careful decision-making shades into indecision. Gordy's definitely guilty of the latter.

LeninGrotto Wed 18-Nov-09 14:23:07

The whole point-scoring system needs a radical overhaul. It's like all the worst parts of crap office environments intensified.

MyCatIsABiggerBastardThanYours Wed 18-Nov-09 14:29:54

I think you have a good point, however, politicians are to blame for a certain element of this. They rarely answer straight questions, are as slippery as a wet snake and are completely hypocritical (for example the current economic disaster is being blamed squarely on the finance sector by the govt when they in fact took a huge part in it by encouraging and not regulating unwise investments and dreadful lending, amongst other thigns).

For this reason they get slammed in many ways. Many of them have done very little to build our respect and if you have no respect it is hard to agree with someones decisions, no matter how they are made.

MrsMerryHenry Wed 18-Nov-09 14:40:44

MyCat - I couldn't agree more. I think politicians are only one down from drug dealers and pimps (equal first place) in the 'scum of the earth' Top 10. If any of my DCs decided to go into politics it would be sackcloth and ashes over here.

wukter Wed 18-Nov-09 14:42:59

When Dubya was commending himself for his streadfastness and refusal to "flip-flop", a critic agreed. "He believes on Wednesday what he believed on Monday - regardless of what happened on Tuesday".

MrsMerryHenry Wed 18-Nov-09 14:45:21

grin Yeah, wukter, but the man was a monumental dunce!

edam Wed 18-Nov-09 14:46:16

grin wukter

sarah293 Wed 18-Nov-09 14:48:17

Message withdrawn

MrsMerryHenry Wed 18-Nov-09 15:13:54

Quite so, Riven. How dare anyone challenge us to rethink our way of life?

I certainly think it's hypocritical to moan that they've made a stupid decision which everybody with any sense can see is wrong and then moan when they have the sense to do a u-turn on the issue.

If politicians start to believe that making a u-turn is seen as worse in the public eye than admitting you're wrong, then it will become even harder to get them to admit they've made an error of judgement.

But what I'd love to see, and probably never will, is politicians admitting they were wrong, and admitting that the other parties have a valid viewpoint now and then. And just maybe understanding why we don't trust them an inch. But I don't see it ever happening.

LadyBlaBlah Wed 18-Nov-09 16:11:10

I don't think ordinary people do bleat on if a politician admits a mistake and does a 'u-turn'. The only people who do bleat on about it usually have newspapers to sell.

MrsMerryHenry Wed 18-Nov-09 16:31:38

ladyblablah, I saw a lot of bleating of exactly this sort on The Times chat section. BUT I think you're partially right - I think these people are just parroting the reporting style of newspapers because they're too lazy/ dim to think it through themselves.

coffeeaddict Wed 18-Nov-09 17:29:31

I hate the way politicians are expected to have instant opinions/make instant decisions, in snappy, media-friendly, sound-bite form. I would rather they spent all that media time THINKING.

Only one down from drug dealers and pimps??!! I am totally non-political myself but all the people I have known who went into politics have done so for idealistic reasons. MPs may have got corrupted along the way or they may be lethargic and of course some are total tossers but actually the two people I am thinking of (not MPs but involved) put a lot of time in for no money. If my kids wanted to go into politics I would like to think it would be for the right reasons and I would be proud of them - while instantly wishing they hadn't put themselves into the public spotlight and hoping their private lives were whiter than white...

Having said that the party-scoring-points stuff drives me insane.

adar Wed 18-Nov-09 17:34:08

one thing that people forget are that politicians are human being and we all make mistakes.in other hand politicians shuold do they jobs right and stop making crap decisions.

BlingLoving Wed 18-Nov-09 17:46:12

I think this is a very good point. And extends beyond just decision making process. I think the public (media?) is often very quick to condemn politicians no matter what they do, or no matter what they (and us) might do in our daily lives. It starts to get to the point where there's very little upside in being a politician as it's almost impossible to not be attacked. And I think the downside is that as a result politicians are even less likely than they were before to make actual statements or have real opinions which they're willing to stand up and be counted on.

AliGrylls Wed 18-Nov-09 18:07:53

OP - I don't agree with you. It is important to be critical of politicians because if we aren't then it is giving them permission to do whatever the hell they like as they like.

The examples that you have quoted I see your point - however the problem with Gordy is that when he has fucked up he has never admitted to it. Therefore, he does a "u turn" instead of saying sorry.

Politicians put themselves in a position of responsibility and therefore it is fair that they behave in a moral way, as they are the ones that are setting an example to the wider community and even more importantly they have a say in making the laws of this country. The expenses scandal has just shown how corrupt and immoral they are - they have every right to be judged.

Lastly, what is wrong with judging people who have behaved in an immoral way?

lljkk Wed 18-Nov-09 18:31:40

The expenses scandal has been highly hypocritical in how public reacted. I don't know anyone in any business who doesn't claim pretty much whatever his expenses system allows. I head one caller on Radio who said the same (obviously I am in a minority on this one!). MPs took advice -- in fact, they were often encouraged (by whips, the fees office) to claim for more stuff than they originally thought of.

Than the public turns on them savagely saying "You should have followed some mystical higher moral code", not merely the official advice and published rules that had been publicly debated at length in Parliament.

The recent news story complaining that MOD staff got bonuses (because they have only had pay freezes for years and their pay in real terms has plummeted in last few decades) is awful, too.

If you want monkeys to run the government and staff the civil service, go ahead and pay them in peanuts and treat them accordingly....

AliGrylls Wed 18-Nov-09 18:43:16

llj, I think it depends on the company you work for. I have known of some companies that are really strict re expenses.

Also, their expenses are coming from the public purse. We have every right to say how it should be spent.

They should follow a high moral code. They are in government and making the laws.

coffeeaddict Wed 18-Nov-09 19:10:40

I have an acquaintance who is intelligent, motivated, full of a desire to make the world better, was at one point thinking of going into politics... and would not go near it with a barge pole now. Would you?

A lot of people's money comes from the public purse these days but we don't get so sanctimonious about them. Yes it would be lovely if the country could provide endless bright, motivated, morally impeccable people to lead us, make perfect decisions and look good on telly. Where are they? Only on the West Wing.

GrendelsMum Wed 18-Nov-09 19:17:55

LLJKK - this question of whether people claim all they can in expenses is obviously very different from one place to another. At the place I work, we can claim only what can clearly be justified = there is certainly not a culture of claiming all you can. If anything, they are rather tight on expenses and benefits in kind. Our MP formerly worked at our institution, and it was noticeable that he was cited repeatedly as one of the 'angels' in the expenses scandle. He clearly did follow his moral code, and has kept the respect of his constituents as a result.

Did anyone hear the programme on Radio 4 about politicians refusing to answer questions? The journalist presenting it, and one or two of the politicians interviewed, said that sometimes, if you answered a question truthfully, you were going to dump your colleagues in it (which is what the journalists want), and that this put you in a very difficult situation. The politician said that you could get yourself a very good reputation for honesty and plain dealing with the public at the expense of being trusted / liked by the civil servants and politicians around you.

peppamum Wed 18-Nov-09 19:30:57

Re: childcare vouchers. I think its good, and to be encouraged, that politicians can re think and u-turn on policy, but it does beg the question: why did he think it was a good idea in the first place, and why does he not now. I haven't read anything about it so there may well be genuine reasons but it seems to me that he's changed his mind becasue it was going to lose him votes, and that isn't a good enough reason as far as I'm concerned.

I would hope that there was a sound ecominic reason why he'd decided to scrap them, and unless the information or calculations have changed, then he should go ahead with it. (caveat: I personally don't want him to scrap childcare bouchers, but I do expect a leader to do what's best for the country as a whole).

MyCatIsABiggerBastardThanYours Wed 18-Nov-09 19:32:31

GrendelsMum - I didn't hear the Radio 4 programme, but that is an interesting point made on why politicians seem almost pathalogically unable to answer a straight question with a straight answer. Isn't a politicians job to be honest and plain dealing with the public? Theoretically it shouldn't matter a damn what his colleagues thought. Of course, these people are only human and are bound to want to be liked by people they work with, but that then doesn't smack of the higher ideals that MP's like to claim made them go into politics in the first place.

notcitrus Wed 18-Nov-09 19:37:59

I work closely with politicians (civil servant, regularly providing briefing to them) and I've got a lot of respect for most of them - they work bloody hard and get thrown into situations that they don't have the experience to deal with. After a reshuffle you get terrified Ministers needing to be briefed before the next round of questions in the House - or as one put it, "What do I need to know so as not to look like a right tit in front of everyone and make the Government look stupid on the front pages?"

There's a lot more plain speaking and agreeing with other parties and working with them that goes on behind the scenes (Committee work is one formal example), but the newspapers feel they need to make everything into a black-and-white issue where you're either 100% right or 100% wrong. And everything's more complicated than that.

I agree with lljkk about the hypocrisy of the expenses scandal - OK a few MPs were taking the piss a bit but given they were explicitly advised that the allowances system is there in lieu of higher pay, and it is allowances rather than expenses, I really don't think that addressing that retrospectively is fair.

As an example of allowances being different to expenses: last week I went to a meeting away from the office, which ran late so I needed to buy lunch. I bought a sandwich for £2.25. There are allowances for 1,2, and 3 meals a day, so that you and the finance teams don't need to futz about with receipts. The allowance for one meal is £4.25. Should I attempt to reimburse the civil service for that £2?

Multiply up a bit and it's the same issue the MPs had.

wasabipeanut Wed 18-Nov-09 20:35:24

I think we are. The whole "u turn" thing has always pissed me off - I'd rather u turns were made on crap decisions rather than seeing a bad idea through to the bitter end.

People whine that politicians won't "tell the truth" yet when they do EG. Alastair Darling saying that we were in for the worst economic conditions for 60 years, then we don't like that either.

With regards to the expenses scandal I think the majority of MP's were doing the right thing and not taking the piss and now, thanks to the self righteous mob mentality that seems to have taken hold, we're going to end up being governed by people with private incomes because nobody else can afford it. Oh yes, and women become even less well represented because they have to travel back from late night sittings on their own.

Could we have scored more of an own goal if we'd tried? We're going back to being governed by the male aristocracy like it was 1910 all over again.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now