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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.)

CogitoErgoSometimes Thu 22-Nov-12 12:56:01

Why are you resurrecting threads from 2009???

picketywick Thu 22-Nov-12 12:42:30

yes, the media are prone to make everything dramatic. Good news is often no news. But I think all politicians get moulded by the job. Go in as idealists and come out into the House of Lords.

MrsMerryHenry Sat 21-Nov-09 16:24:53

choosy - you've reminded me of something which a former boss of mine said once. When people in companies start off at the bottom, they are the hands-on people doing the stuff, so their time and energy is constantly occupied. The further up the ladder you go, the less stuff you actually have to do, so instead you start to create stuff to occupy you - otherwise known as that bothersome bugbear of working life: office politics.

I wonder whether journalists are living in a perpetual state of office politicking. They are not making the news, they're not being the news or doing the stuff (well, unles they're one of the far-too-many egomaniacal personal comment writers); they're meant to be finding it somehow, somewhere. With the huge increase in competition across journalism in the last 10 years or so (internet, 24 hour news, digital radio, etc), I imagine that having staying power in this job is even more critical, hence the reason that every cough and tickle is elevated and over-inflated into a major news story. They will do anything to get their paper/ channel/ whatever noticed, and as a result the public is frequently dished up low quality crap that nobody should really give a monkey's about. It also makes it harder, as someone said earlier, to discern real news from guff.

choosyfloosy Thu 19-Nov-09 15:12:27

Yes I agree with the OP.

A lot of political reporting is quite good on its own terms, but the sort of feeding-frenzy topic that has no reality in it drives me mad - particularly LEADERSHIP ELECTIONS my absolute bugbear. 'Today X has unequivocally ruled himself out but rumours in the HofC have continued to circulate re his potential candidacy' - THAT'S NOT NEWS it is GOSSIP. Tell me when something has HAPPENED.

Sometimes I wish that all news consisted of Charlotte Green reading out a brief handwritten note from the minister concerned. Or even a tweet - I would rather know that the minister was having trouble understanding a memo about genetic therapies and did anyone know what achalasia means, than about some future speech saying - erm - not very much, that someone hasn't even made yet.

porncocktail Thu 19-Nov-09 11:20:04

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

porncocktail Thu 19-Nov-09 11:19:16

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

thell Thu 19-Nov-09 11:13:14

Excellent thread chaps.

I've long agreed with the OP's observation.
It really does my head in how the media (especially newspapers) report everything as terribly dramatic, blow things out of proportion and criticise for the sake of it.

The tone they set is insidious - creeping into the public consciousness so that we are more likely to view the world in the same way.
When you've grown up with this way of viewing the world displayed all around you, and you have to do your own reading around in order to interpret the news yourself, it makes understanding what's really going on pretty hard work!

MyCatIsABiggerBastardThanYours Thu 19-Nov-09 10:25:46

who's oookimaflip?? I of course mean ooojimaflip!

MyCatIsABiggerBastardThanYours Thu 19-Nov-09 10:25:07

I've been thinking about politicians regular inability to change their minds, even when wrong (childcare vouchers being an exception to this), and I believe a lot of it is down to media training. They are told and trained that they need to be seen to be strong and made of stern tough, to show that they are true leaders, know their minds and can be relied upon, to some/many this means sticking to their guns. This of course makes them look utter tits on a regular basis, hence my previous comment on respect.

I don't know this for sure, but have summised it from my own observations and reading.

oookimaflip - I like that idea.

MrsMerryHenry Wed 18-Nov-09 23:53:35

What a good idea, oojie.

ooojimaflip Wed 18-Nov-09 23:41:32

But to address the OP - it would require a complete restructuring of politics, but I'd like to see a more empirical approach to policy. So don't pretend you know that a policy will be a good thing. Say we think policy X will do Y - we'll review in Z years and if X is not doing Y it will be removed from the statute books and rethought.

ooojimaflip Wed 18-Nov-09 23:38:24

edam - it may have been wrong, but it's just not very important. Far more money is wasted by government in other ways - it would be more useful if this was the focus.

MrsMerryHenry Wed 18-Nov-09 23:37:47

coffeeaddict - I am, of course, making gross generalisations about parliamentary politicians. I know one local politician who is genuine and will most likely get into Parliament next year...and once that happens, sadly it's only a matter of time before all that integrity vanishes.

Ali, I've not said anywhere that they shouldn't be judged, but I am saying that we are hypocritical in the way that we make those judgments.

Grendel - interesting about the politicians/ questioning catch-22, I didn't know that.

edam Wed 18-Nov-09 22:29:23


edam Wed 18-Nov-09 22:29:09

(Although personally I felt Ian Gibson was very badly treated indeed - not a friend of mind but someone whose work I admired and who did very little wrong IMO.)

edam Wed 18-Nov-09 22:28:01

notcitrus, I think you've gone a bit native in the opposite sense to Yes, Minister. What MPs were getting up to was plain wrong. Tony McNulty claiming for his parents' house, that married couple claiming both their houses were second homes, people flipping second home designation to sell on at a profit, Mr Moat, Mr Duck House... it was clearly wrong, wrong and wrong again on a massive scale.

Lots of other people may have been doing it. That doesn't make it right. I was taught that at my mother's knee, am amazed it apparently had to be spelt out to the people in charge of making the laws the rest of us have to obey. FGS.

If us mere citizens who pay their salary and allowances had got up to one iota of the eyewatering stuff MPs have done, we'd have been up in court and no-one would have had any sympathy for us.

I've known plenty of MPs who did go into politics for the right reasons and who are decent human beings. But no-one with an ounce of morality or a morsel of common sense could possibly defend what their colleagues were up to.

AbricotsSecs Wed 18-Nov-09 21:40:30

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AbricotsSecs Wed 18-Nov-09 21:40:01

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wasabipeanut Wed 18-Nov-09 20:36:01

Excellent thread btw.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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