How can we do politics better?

There’s been a spate of articles and comments by Liberal Democrat politicians which, at a guess, isn’t co-ordinated, but they all address the same themes – the problems with the way that we do politics and lack of trust in politicians and institutions.

Paddy Ashdown told the Times (£), reported also for free in the Guardian that public faith in British institutions was “crumbling into dust” with some very harsh words for the BBC and NHS:

The BBC is revealed as an organisation which can’t manage its own affairs, misspends public money and seems to have been complicit in aggrandising someone [Jimmy Savile] whose proclivities would be rejected by most people.

The NHS, we are told, is to be failing right down to the level of doctors. Nurses were angels but some turn out to be witches.

I am normally a big Paddy fan, but I feel very uncomfortable with his words about nurses. Some to me is a word that signifies more than the very few, a tiny minority who turn out bad, and the use of  “witch” with its history of medieval misogyny,  troubles me, even when this is more of a description of how these institutions are painted rather than expression of a personal view. His remarks also don’t take into account the pressures many health professionals are working under, as this article in yesterday’s Independent by a midwife who is leaving the NHS shows.  That aside, he goes on to warn of the consequences of such distrust in the organisations we rely on:

This decline was deterring some people from voting and pushing others into the arms of “demagogues” such as Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader, and Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front in France, whom he brackets together. “I’m reminded of the terrible line in Larkin, ‘England, with a cast of crooks and tarts’. Now I’m not saying that’s true. [However] I think all of these add up to a mood of Jacobinism which I think is quite frightening . . .

If this is the age of the collapse of beliefs, the dissolution of institutions, then what you’re going to find is people who find an appeal in answers that are simplistic.

Earlier in the week, Sarah Teather, in an intensely personal interview with the Guardian, talked about how politicians invented problems to make themselves sound relevant.

We get ourselves into our own little spiral. We end up inventing problems to pretend we’re relevant, and then try to fix the problems we’ve just invented. The EU migration stuff is a classic example.

The public know it’s guff, so their trust in politicians goes down. And then our anxiety about not being relevant goes up, so we kind of get into a cycle of democratic self-harm, so we get progressively more frenzied about chasing wilder and wilder straw men and the public get more and more cynical. I’m not convinced that’s the best way of demonstrating we’re in touch.

I might be a little more cynical than Sarah, because it appears to me that some of these problems are invented by people with a particular agenda, or vested interest to protect. This doesn’t apply to Paddy, but some people who criticise, say, the NHS or the BBC have an agenda that involves undermining them. They clearly aren’t perfect, but no less so than many bodies which aren’t in the public sector. Banks, anybody? And then when it comes to immigration, the frenzy we’ve seen over Romanians and Bulgarians, the spectacle of MPs staking out airport arrivals lounges to greet the flights from these countries. Scapegoating groups of people is never a good idea. Solving the problems, like lack of housing that people on low incomes can afford, is a much better, if harder way of dealing with frustrations.

Finally, writing in the Mirror, Tessa Munt starts a debate on what we expect from our politicians. She asks if there should be a job description and how we could measure MPs’ activity. She also recounts the sort of effort she puts in:

Shortly before 3am on New Year’s Day my mobile on the bedside table rang.  I found myself in conversation with a somewhat incredulous (“is that really Tessa?”) good-natured but definitely tipsy young man who – even though the background noise suggested he was celebrating the arrival of 2014 with his friends – wanted to discuss why I hadn’t voted in a particular debate.

She doesn’t dismiss the idea of MPs doing other work, although she wonders how they have the time, but she just thinks they should be open about it when they stand for election:

I don’t mean the doctors, drivers and others who need a minimum number of working hours to keep their skills updated so they stay registered – general elections can deliver a brutal end to any MP’s term, so keeping qualified is fair.  He or she may need to return to his or her old job!

It should be absolutely clear when candidates stand for election exactly what the deal is.

My worry about job descriptions and standards that MPs have to meet are that such statistics, in any field of work, can often be sterile and misleading. I don’t care about correspondence response target times or the number of rings before a phone is answered if, when I do get a response, it’s one that takes my concerns seriously and shows a genuine willingness to do something about it. You can’t necessarily measure that.

I could write all year how politics could be done better, but I’ll confine myself for the moment to just two points which are undoubtedly stating the bleedin’ obvious.

Stop the blame game

When something goes wrong, as it inevitably will in the running of anything, there’s an unseemly rush to point the finger. How much better would it be if people concentrated on the solution to the problem rather than seeing it as an opportunity for a bit of indulgent schadenfreude. No government is immune from administrative screw ups. There should be a little more humility, a bit of “that could have happened to us, too” and offering of helpful suggestions to fix things. There will be times when people do need to be sacked or disciplined, but let’s be professional in the way that’s done and get rid of the trial by media.

A bit of empathy

The brattish bunfight of Prime Minister’s Questions is all most people see of MPs and then only in passing. Hardly an appealing shop window, is it?  And the cynical, angry, spectacle is repeated in a million places on the internet every day. Mark Valladares wrote last week about the need for a more human, engaging politics and he’s absolutely right. If politicians can’t be a bit more respectful and open in their tone both with each other and with the voters, the disconnect will grow. I was mortified a few weeks ago when two women very dear to me and not involved in politics at all were called all sorts of names in a deeply condescending manner by several young Liberal Democrat men on my Facebook page. I went to bed shortly after posting something and woke up to social media carnage. I threw a bit of a strop on seeing what had been said to my dear friends and at least those concerned had the decency to apologise but it should never have happened. It did not advance a very good example of what liberalism is all about, respect for the individual. And you are never going to be able to persuade people round to your point of view if you don’t understand in your own head and heart where they are and why they think like they do. Political conversation needs to have much more heart and soul and appeal to constructive and positive emotions.

When I say we, by the way, I mean everyone who has any sort of involvement in politics, inside and outside political parties. We need to give space to others to contribute, not try to hog an ever narrower pitch to ourselves.

So those are my two pretty simple ideas. What would you do to make politics healthier, better and more engaging?

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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46 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 4th Jan '14 - 10:57am

    Thanks for the article. I’m not sure how to make politics better, I just have faith that everything slowly gets better.

    Regarding the blame game: I would like less personal attacks. Even attacks against groups can be hurtful.

    Regarding empathy: I quite like the light hearted nature of PMQs, I just wish people would answer the questions they are asked during it.

    I suppose to add an example of my own I would like less message discipline and to hear the passion of our MPs.

  • Stuart Mitchell 4th Jan '14 - 11:22am

    “The BBC is revealed as an organisation which can’t manage its own affairs, misspends public money and seems to have been complicit in aggrandising someone [Jimmy Savile] whose proclivities would be rejected by most people.

    “The NHS, we are told, is to be failing right down to the level of doctors. Nurses were angels but some turn out to be witches.”

    I’ve always respected Paddy Ashdown as a politician, but after reading the above I must remember not to take the slightest bit of notice of anything he says ever again.

    Caron did a good (though restrained) job of rubbishing the nurse comments, but what is all that nonsense about the BBC being “complicit” in aggrandising a paedophile? “Complicit” is becoming more and more popular as the smear word of choice where there is no actual proof that someone has done something wrong.

  • People just want less spin and more integrity from politicians.

  • How can we do politics better?
    How about listening to the public’s real concerns, instead of hand waving them away, with a curt disapproving dismissal? Reflect on this. In the same timeframe that LibDem popularity has gone from 30% down to 10%, Ukip have gone from 5% to 28%
    And yet, to read the general LibDem response to this, it appears that the nation is turning into fascists, little Englanders, swivel eyed loons, and jonnie foreigner hating followers of Demagogues like Nigel Farage. Really? So let’s recap. Either :
    1. the electorate have, on mass, lost their senses, or
    2. the present political system has gone blind and deaf to their real concerns.
    I have tried to point this out before, but again I will say that I too, despise a lot of the background Ukip policy, and you would have to be certifiably mad to trust Farage. But I WILL vote Ukip in May and I will, keep voting Ukip until I get a nose bleed!
    Why?
    Because the present warped Westminster cartel needs to be knocked off its foundations, and whilst Ukip is NOT a solution, it is the only sledgehammer, we ‘the un-listened to’, have at our disposal right now.
    And as Tessa Munt correctly point out :
    “…. you are never going to be able to persuade people round to your point of view if you don’t understand in your own head and heart where they are, and why they think like they do.”

  • Uncomfortable with the word ‘witches’. Sometimes people cannot cope with the stresses they are under.

    ‘Demagogue’, according to the Oxford dictionary:
    ‘a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument’.

    Is that a fair description of David Cameron or Ed Miliband too?

  • Paul Pettinger 4th Jan '14 - 1:56pm

    I find Paddy’s comments hard to take seriously when he ignores Lib Dem politician’s role in lowering public debate and trust – they are now one of the least trusted group of public figures: http://www1.politicalbetting.com/index.php/archives/2012/11/13/trust-in-bbc-journalists-declines-sharply-but-still-ahead-of-every-other-sector-of-the-media/

    Cultures often start at the top and I don’t think our Party is different. If the Party is to be more successful it needs to be more honest, genuine and orientated towards long term changes

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 4th Jan '14 - 2:23pm

    Dave, I know local government is different, but parties have been force d to work together up here because of the introduction of STV in local government elections. The day to day conduct of business can be just as brutal, though.

    Mark, I think Nick atones for the PMQs rabble by the way he engages with the public on things like Call Clegg. He was asked during the Christmas Special how he persuaded people and he said that he liked to stick to the facts, not attack people and put as much humour in as he could if it was appropriate to do so.

    Jonathan, of course you are right. I wasn’t suggesting that people should get away with the consequences of huge mistakes but we need to leave it to the proper procedures to deal with that and not have a media witch hunt and trial. But, generally, everyone makes a mistake at some point. Politics really sweats the small stuff. We had a minister resign up here because he was blamed for a huge snowstorm, which I thought was a bit ridiculous.

    John Dunn, empathy and understanding does not mean that you shift your position to one that there is no evidence to support. Regrettably, some people who are against immigration are racist xenophobes. Others are genuinely concerned about jobs/housing/public services – but the way round that is to address those concerns, not scapegoat one group of people. I still find it very odd that we spend squillions, for example, on weapons of mass destruction that we’ll never use when we should be building more houses.

    Stuart, are you seriously saying that because a person says one thing that you disagree with that you are not prepared to listen to anything they ever say in the future? A bit harsh, surely?

    Chris, remember that Vince Cable was warning about the need for unprecedented austerity way before anyone else was.

  • Ruth Bright 4th Jan '14 - 2:38pm

    Caron I am so sorry that some of your friends from the “real” world were subjected to unkindness from politicos. You are quite right about the disconnect. A close relative of mine faces a re-election battle this year and I am finding myself treading very carefully in my choice of helpers from our non-political family/friends. I am ashamed of the kind of culture that they will be exposed to.

    Treat yourself to a New Year gift of Michael Ignatieff’s “Fire and Ashes” about his experience of crash and burn in Canadian politics. Ignatieff covers beautifully many of the issues you raise here. Happy New Year.

  • Stuart Mitchell 4th Jan '14 - 2:41pm

    @Caron “A bit harsh, surely?”

    You’re right. This was not Paddy’s finest hour but we’re all human.

    Having a wife who nursed on ICU wards for many years, I’m well aware of just what pressures nurses face and how dedicated most of them are, so I was particularly put out by the unhelpful nurses-to-witches soundbite.

  • Caron suggests :
    “…but the way round that is to address those concerns”
    And the point is, that the public have long concluded, that the ‘cosy cabal of 3’, are NOT the people who will address those concerns. And their conclusion is undoubtedly correct.

  • “Chris, remember that Vince Cable was warning about the need for unprecedented austerity way before anyone else was.”

    Sorry, Caron, but I can’t see how that relates to what I said at all.

    Would you care to spell out what you’re trying to say?

  • jedibeeftrix 4th Jan '14 - 3:14pm

    @ Dave – “If there’s a correlation between opposition to AV and complaints about confrontational politics, then I have no sympathy for the complainers. They had a chance to fix this and they blew it.”

    Quite agreed.

    Fortunately for me, I am quite content with adversarial politics and happy to vote to continue with FPTP.

  • @jedibeeftrix. AV is just as adversarial as FPTP. The main difference is that AV has a winning post whereas FPTP doesn’t.

  • Ah Mr Paul K., you provide the exact example of why people don’t trust politicians, or anybody who belongs to a political party — especially the Liberal Democrats.

    Is there a Liberal Democrat book somewhere that says, ‘If you’re talking to someone who wishes politics could be more consensual, tell them AV will force politicians to appeal to those who might vote for other parties as well. If you’re talking to someone who says they are happy with adversarial politics, tell them that AV is just as adversarial as the current system.’

    How can you have trust in anyone who will switch from arguing black is white to arguing white is black at the drop of a hat, depending on which constituency they’re in?

    How can you trust someone who just tells you what they think you want to hear?

  • Paddy has always been my hero and he has really hit the nail on the head here. As I see it, many voters say they mistrust mainstream politicians and we are not exempt from this mistrust. Paddy is saying that we cannot go round with our own eyes shut. We have to understand that we alienated many of our long-established supporters (especially students) when we went back on our pledge to abolish tuition fees and that unless we can rebuild trust, those people may never vote for us again; such was the effect on our image.

  • That’s not correct, though, is it? Around 75% to 85% vote for what you call the “cosy cabal of 3″.

    Actually, allowing for the fact that 35% of the electorate didn’t vote for anyone, only about 57% voted for the three main parties in 2010. It remains to be seen what the figure will be in 2015, now that the third party has also been one of government.

  • “I was mortified a few weeks ago when two women very dear to me and not involved in politics at all were called all sorts of names in a deeply condescending manner by several young Liberal Democrat men on my Facebook page. I went to bed shortly after posting something and woke up to social media carnage. I threw a bit of a strop on seeing what had been said to my dear friends and at least those concerned had the decency to apologise but it should never have happened.”

    Having been shown the post in question (as you know, I don’t do Facebook) I think this is a bit of a caricature of what happened; there was intemperate language and patronising on both sides and certainly in intellectual terms, as a mother, I would have sided with the young men. Just saying.

  • Paul K didn’t say it, but others (such as Dave) did: if you want to end confrontational, adversarial politics, then you should have voted for AV.

    So apparently if you want to end adversarial politics, you should have voted for AV. But if you want adversarial politics to continue, you should have voted for AV.

    It’s precisely the same as being for wind turbines in one constituency, and against them in the next-door one. You decide what you want and then you tell people that it will solve their problem, whatever their problem happens to be.

    All the parties do it, of course (which is why the public trusts none of them) but the Lib Dems are the worst because in my experience they are the ones who think that the liberal answer to any question is obviously the right one and so any strategy to get people to pick it is justified (whereas people from the other parties realise that quite often there is no ‘right’ answer and if you don’t agree with them that doesn’t necessarily mean you must be stupid).

  • So which of them is right? They can’t both be: either AV is bad for adversarial politics, or it is just as adversarial as the current system.

    Do you not see this?

    Imagine if the issue were, say, putting speed cameras along a given stretch of road. Person A from the pro-speed-camera party says, ‘If you think cars are going too fast along that stretch of road, then you should vote for the speed cameras.’

    Then someone says, But I don’t think cars are driving too fast along that stretch of road.’

    So up pops person B from the pro-speed-camera party and says, ‘Actually, speed cameras won’t affect the speed people drive down that road at all.’

    Do you not think that kind of behaviour might, just might, undermine people’s trust in politics? Especially when the anti-speed-camera party does exactly the same thing.

    One gets the impression not that the parties are trying to sell different visions of what life in this country should be like, but rather that they have decided that they know The Right Answers and their job is to persuade enough people to turn out and vote for them, by whatever means necessary, that they can then implement those Right Answers.

    And, shockingly, it turns out people don’t like being treated like that. They don’t like feeling that they are being managed.

    One quite often, these days, gets the feeling that quite a lot of the political class feels that a large part of their job is actually keeping the uneducated masses away from running the country… because heaven knows what the masses would do if they were in charge! They might not know what is best for them, like what we politically-aware types do!

  • David Allen 4th Jan '14 - 11:24pm

    It’s not about adversarial politics. As Chris says, it’s about too much spin, too little integrity, and not keeping promises.

    A generation ago, we had highly adversarial politics, with the Tories on the side of the middle class and Labour on the side of the working class. When the Tories were in government, Labour’s main promise was to tilt the balance of tax and spending in favour of the working class. When elected, Labour kept that promise. The Tories then promised to tilt the balance back in favour of the middle class. They in turn kept that promise when they were elected.

    It may not have been a very edifying political game, and it may not have achieved much for Britain in the long run. But in those days, the voters could at least largely trust the politicians to do what they said on the tin.

    Basically, playing adversarial politics is what you like about the people you like, and what you hate about the people you hate. Churchill was an adversarial fellow, and it didn’t do him or us a lot of harm.

    What really matters is that nowadays, politicians say one thing and do another. With the Lib Dems and tuition fees being the most egregious example.

  • “What really matters is that nowadays, politicians say one thing and do another. With the Lib Dems and tuition fees being the most egregious example.”

    Probably the most egregious. But I think the most offensive example is that the Lib Dems are always telling us how much they are helping the low-paid, whereas the reality is that the low-paid have been hit harder by this government’s tax and benefit changes than those on average incomes – and most of those on above-average incomes.

    As far as I’m concerned, that is a crucial criterion of political integrity. Yet there is virtually no acknowledgment of that reality on LDV, only endless spin about tax cuts ‘for the low-paid’ (read: for the 85% who pay the basic rate of income tax). If people want to make politics better, they could start by being honest about what economists call the ‘distributional’ effects of this government’s policies.

  • Paul K is wrong. AV is not “just as adversarial as FPTP”. With FPTP in a four way contest you can afford to alienate two thirds of the voters and still win. Under AV, if you do this you lose. The need to pick up second preference votes makes AV necessarily more inclusive and less partisan.

  • Anyway, as things stand now, Lib Dems should probably be thanking their lucky stars that the AV referendum failed.

    In Ashcroft’s most recent poll of Tory-held Lib Dem targets, the basic voting intention question showed the Lib Dems down 21 points and Labour up 11, leaving Labour 6 points ahead of the Lib Dems. It was only when people were prompted to think about constituency circumstances (i.e. tactical voting) that the Lib Dems got back into second place.

    On these figures, under AV the Lib Dems would be in third place on first preference votes in many seats that were previously Tory/LD marginals. Under FPTP tactical voting considerations keep them in contention.

  • Stuart Mitchell 5th Jan '14 - 10:49am

    @Sue Render
    “Paddy has always been my hero and he has really hit the nail on the head here… We have to understand that we alienated many of our long-established supporters (especially students) when we went back on our pledge to abolish tuition fees…”

    Paddy has consistently stated that he feels the breaking of the tuition fees pledge was not a big deal.

    So employing somebody who was never charged with child abuse during his lifetime is bad, but wilfully breaking an unambiguous election pledge is OK. I would question Paddy’s ability to hit the nail on the head when it comes to identifying the lack of trust in our public institutions these days.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 5th Jan '14 - 6:14pm

    Jonathan, I didn’t mean to be dismisive so sorry if it’s come over like that – I was replying to loads of comments at once in a very limited time and I should have taken more care or left it till later.

    Of course where there are huge abuses like that, there needs to be proper systems for dealing with those who are responsible and for protecting whistleblowers and taking their concerns seriously. I wasn’t equating this to the snow incident – just saying that politics and the media can create a huge storm about essentially trivial things while missing the big stuff. Also, we have to recognise that any organisation is going to make mistakes at some point – it is inevitable. It’s how it’s dealt with when that happens? Is there a culture of openness, transparency and getting the problem fixed, If not, there should be. If things have been done which are criminal, people should be prosecuted. If people have lied or covered things up, then they should be disciplined or sacked. The more time we spend sweating the less important things, the more likely the real big abuses are to take place. Does that make more sense?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 5th Jan '14 - 6:20pm

    Jennie, as a mother and in intellectual terms, I also was more inclined to the position of the young men, but the way in which they expressed themselves caused deep distress to others when a little bit of understanding might have had a better outcome and a better understanding of what liberalism is all about. I remember being really upset when the boys who killed James Bulger were let out. It seemed to me, at that point, the mother of a child of similar age, a bit soon. Yes, I was reacting emotionally but people do sometimes.

    When I expressed that view, there were some that called me all sorts of names. The person who talked me round was a patient old liberal who took the time to see where I was and to explain things in a way that meant something to me. I’ve never forgotten that and it’s governed my behaviour since.

  • Caron – it is, however extraordinarily difficult to “get it right” every time. I remember 20 years ago, when I paid regular visits to my (then) local Liberal Club, many of whose regulars were not very political at all (and many not very liberal, or Liberal, at all). It always struck me that many overtly non-political people get much more fired up about controversial political issues than do we politicos, whether that is, as you have called it, “an emotional reaction”, or just that people who are “not political”, being less familiar with debating these matters, lose it that much faster when talking contentious issues. So when I was at the bar, when someone would often try to “stir me up”, I would deliberately keep my replies light, and out of the central controversial points. On the other hand, on the doorstep, I will always let people know and understand Lib Dem, and if necessary, my,views on a topic, and have found that useful, even if it quickly finds out people who radically disagree! I don’t think it helps much to try and be all things to all people, only in the sense that different examples or words, to fit what you understand of the person you are talking to, may be useful to explain (as your “patient old liberal” did).

  • Simon Banks 5th Jan '14 - 9:49pm

    I’d just like to point out that while nurses and other NHS staff (and that includes managers) are under a lot of stress and some trusts and the government are trying to pretend more can be done on limited budgets than is realistic, hence deceit at Mid-Staffs and very likely Colchester, it is dangerous to treat any group of employees such as nurses as above criticism. Some do neglect patients whom they could help. Some do victimise patients and carers who complain. They’re a minority, but they should be a much smaller minority. And yes, management should take a large share of the blame for allowing this and governments (especially the Major, Blair and Brown governments) are at fault for prioritising easily measurable targets over patient experience.

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Jan '14 - 7:56am

    John Dunn

    Because the present warped Westminster cartel needs to be knocked off its foundations, and whilst Ukip is NOT a solution, it is the only sledgehammer, we ‘the un-listened to’, have at our disposal right now.

    UKIP is saying out loud what the right-wing of the Conservatives are saying quietly. Isn’t is REMARKABLE how people are fed up with the right-wing nature of this government and think the solution is – to vote for a party which is even more right-wing? To me this just marks how people have been misled by those at the top of society, in particular those with media influence.

    A good result for UKIP WILL strengthen the hand of the right-wing of the Conservative Party, WILL move politics even further to the right in this country, and so most certainly WILL NOT solve the problem of people being unhappy about a society which seems to be dominated by a uncaring elite who are squeezing the life out of the rest os us.

  • Jayne Mansfield 6th Jan '14 - 9:16am

    @ John Dunn
    As some one who currently intends to vote for none of the above, but would never in a million years vote for someone like Farage and his party, what is it that you as one of the ‘un-listened to’ want from a political party?

    Me, I just want a party that keeps its promises and doesn’t lie.

  • “How can we do politics better?” Caron’s question is so central that there is no simple or single answer but I would like to suggest a few pointers starting at home – i.e. with the Lib Dems where we DO have the opportunity, restricted only by our imagination, to improve things (in contrast to Parliament where our influence is small and likely to decline further in 2015).

    The first thing I want to see change is an end to the effective embargo on ideological debate that was imposed after the Liberal/SDP merger. The fear compounded by lack of strategic vision (as I take it to be) in senior party circles of opening up old wounds has created a party that attempts, as it were, to play golf using only the community politics putter. After 25 years the official party has made remarkably little real progress towards working out what it’s about beyond generalised do-goodery. The result is an organisation that achieves less than the sum of its very talented members, one that subtracts value rather than adding it.

    To be fair the ideological vacuum is part of a wider liberal weakness well described in the US case by Chris Hedges. The result is that more or less all politicians now broadly share Thatcher’s understanding of how an economy works and the inevitable result is that, whatever their instincts, they are pushed towards Thatcherite solutions even though her analysis was patently wrong and has failed everywhere it is tried.

    In a related point we see the importance of getting constitutional structures right – e.g. PR – which we won’t have the power to enact anytime soon. Yet what IS within our power – to reorganise the way things are done with the Lib Dem Party – is neglected. So we persist with the comfortable notion that Conference is supreme but then allow the Party leader to ignore it when it suits him and we continue with a policy-making process that is remarkably top-down and routinely fails to come up with the goods.

    As liberals we have a great franchise but seem scared of developing it. That needs a change in attitude.

  • Stuart Mitchell 6th Jan '14 - 9:38pm

    @Simon Banks
    “it is dangerous to treat any group of employees such as nurses as above criticism.”

    Nobody does, or would want to. We shouldn’t be treating people as “groups” at all. We should judge people as individuals.

    If Paddy has something serious to say about something specific that has happened, then fine. But simply calling nurses “witches” is more mindless abuse than fair criticism, would you not agree?

    There have been bad nurses who have done bad things, and you are right that this should never be tolerated. But it should be put in context alongside the number of good nurses who are nothing but dedicated, not to mention the number of patients and visitors who verbally and physically abuse nurses (go look up the stats – it’s shocking, though seldom talked about).

  • Given the message in Caron’s original I thought I would not respond for a day or so and give a more measured comment. I happen to believe we could do politics better if there was not the constant rush to instant statements and reactions which are a feature of the Twitter Age. Although I am as guilty of that as any others. ( BTW – I would also like us to write English better and react against the phrase – “do politics ” ). I am of the letraset and A4 leaflet generation – it used to take a while and a bit of effort to use scissors and paste to put together a Focus and that time delay was often useful in allowing us time to reflect on some of the more extravagant statements we might otherwise have made.

    I am interested that the comments which followed Caron’s piece did not pick up on Paddy’s reference to Jacobinism. People were quick to defend nurses and the BBC but seemed to miss a much more important political point. Maybe like the ‘bicycle shed theory’ there is a theory that responses in LDV are restricted to easy things that people can immediately relate to rather than more complex concepts. ( For those unfamiliar with the ‘bicycle shed theory’ – it describes the tendency of local council planning committee members to spend hours discussing a planning application for a bicycle shed because they know what one looks like and can immediately understand the issues, whilst they will spend only five minutes on a crucially important regional structure plan because it is complex and frighteningly unfamiliar.)

    Paddy mentioned Jacobinism as follows –
    . “I’m reminded of the terrible line in Larkin, ‘England, with a cast of crooks and tarts’. Now I’m not saying that’s true. [However] I think all of these add up to a mood of Jacobinism which I think is quite frightening . . .

    If Paddy remembers me ( and he more than likely does not ) he might recall a discussion we had a lot of years ago. This recent reference to jacobins reminded me of it. Jacobins are often used to put the frighteners on the comfortable, the established, the people who worry that ‘the mob’ will upset their world. Unlike Paddy – I think there are not enough jacobins around at the moment. He may be frightened by them but then he is from the officer class, he now sits in The Lords, and whilst he was always a bit of an outsider in the English establishment, he is a part of it. Orwell had interesting thoughts on the political use of the threat of and fear of ‘the mob’. Much as I admire Paddy and his achievements, I am with Orwell and with the Jacobins.

    Radical Liberals have always been in the business of comforting the afflicted and giving the comfortable a bloody hard time.

  • To understand another reference from Paddy people might like to read the Larkin poen. Given the recent Coalition madness in approving a new generation of nuclear power stations in Somerset, Paddy might like to reflect on the line about throwing rubbish into the sea, followed by “Doubt”.

    GOING, GOING by Philip Larkin. (January 1972)

    I thought it would last my time –
    The sense that, beyond the town,
    There would always be fields and farms,
    Where the village louts could climb
    Such trees as were not cut down;
    I knew there’d be false alarms
    In the papers about old streets
    And split level shopping, but some
    Have always been left so far;
    And when the old part retreats
    As the bleak high-risers come
    We can always escape in the car.
    Things are tougher than we are, just
    As earth will always respond
    However we mess it about;
    Chuck filth in the sea, if you must:
    The tides will be clean beyond.
    – But what do I feel now? Doubt?
    Or age, simply? The crowd
    Is young in the M1 cafe;
    Their kids are screaming for more –
    More houses, more parking allowed,
    More caravan sites, more pay.
    On the Business Page, a score
    Of spectacled grins approve
    Some takeover bid that entails
    Five per cent profit (and ten
    Per cent more in the estuaries): move
    Your works to the unspoilt dales
    (Grey area grants)! And when
    You try to get near the sea
    In summer . . .
    It seems, just now,
    To be happening so very fast;
    Despite all the land left free
    For the first time I feel somehow
    That it isn’t going to last,
    That before I snuff it, the whole
    Boiling will be bricked in
    Except for the tourist parts –
    First slum of Europe: a role
    It won’t be hard to win,
    With a cast of crooks and tarts.
    And that will be England gone,
    The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
    The guildhalls, the carved choirs.
    There’ll be books; it will linger on
    In galleries; but all that remains
    For us will be concrete and tyres.
    Most things are never meant.
    This won’t be, most likely; but greeds
    And garbage are too thick-strewn
    To be swept up now, or invent
    Excuses that make them all needs.
    I just think it will happen, soon.

  • People seem to believe that current politics is about providing people with services that they want
    Its not – its about POWER – and people who want power will do anything, tell you anything, that gets them into power.
    They may not start there but soon adopt the norms. This in part explains why we have so many people in power who have inherited money. This will become an ever increasing problem as society becomes more divided.
    There is only one solution. We must take power away from those at the top. Devolution, this was once a Lib Dem principle Its in the constitution. Take power away from Westminster they will never give it away. It could be a Lib Dem winner policy

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