Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Admit it: you don't want principled politicians either

During Michael Gove's tenure as Secretary Of State for Education, he was reported to be the least popular politician in Britain.  His reforms to the education system were met with opposition by teaching unions, and his policies led to strikes, protests, and eventually to Prime Minister David Cameron moving him sideways to the post of Chief Whip during a recent government reshuffle.

One of the most common criticisms of Gove was that he was an ideologue; that his reforms were rooted in an immutable belief system - an ideology - without taking into account the evidence of research studies or the opinions of either experts or the public.  (Interestingly, if your main opposition to a policy if that it is 'ideological', then it follows that your opposition to it is also rooted in ideology - but that is probably a topic best explored another time.)

Strangely, however, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrat party Nick Clegg has also received a lot of criticism during this parliamentary term - but for exactly the opposite reasons.  Clegg has been branded a 'sell-out', and cruelly mocked online and in the popular press for appearing to ditch his principles and beliefs for a slice of power in a coalition government with David Cameron's Conservatives.

Often, it is in fact the same people who attack Gove's dogmatic idealism on the one hand, and Clegg's political expediency on the other.  These inconsistents need to make up their mind about what they actually want; do they really want politicians who act out of principle and conviction, and stick doggedly to what they know in their hearts to be right, even in the face of fierce opposition - or do they want politicians who listen to the public, and to activists and focus groups, and supplely bend with each shift in prevailing opinion, adapting their world view to suit what the voters want?

The answer, I'm afraid, is neither of these options.  People do not want either type of politician in office - they simply want politicians who agree with them on all issues.  They want politicians who stick to their guns as a matter of principle when the stance is one they agree with, but who modify their approach in the face of public opinion when they have a different view.

Unfortunately, in politics people will disagree with you sometimes - often, in fact.  Now, you can prefer the idea of politicians who are principled and do what they believe is right, or politicians who are pragmatic and listen to people, but wanting the best of both worlds all the time is not very realistic - and, frankly, a little immature.

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