Yesterday, I suggested that politicians – as opposed to evidence-based professionals like lawyers, doctors, scientists and educators – really were anchored in medieval times:
[...] those times when lords did their lording over serfs who did their kneeling; where people occupied castes which knew their place; and where every attempt at social mobility involved a threat against the integrity of the status quo.
I also concluded that:
Even as doctors, lawyers, scientists and educators have left behind them the dark and dreary miseries of medieval imposition and woodentop thought, politicians continue to believe in top-down hierarchies, in pyramidal politics, in tribal loyalties, in conditional relationships of all kinds … essentially, in the pursuit of a grand largesse where you get ahead only as far as birth allows you to; where you get ahead only as far as money defines is permissible.
Now I realise, in retrospect, that I was perhaps using a rather broad brush when I painted all politicians as medieval throwbacks. So here’s a gentle – and I hope reasonable – qualification of my original thesis: the higher up the greasy pole of power a politician gets, the more medieval his or her behaviours become.
Medieval in the sense I describe above. Or, alternatively, just as constructively, medieval in the sense of a persistent and resilient plague.
So not all by any means. Just those who exert power and count.
Does that sit more nicely?
Of course it doesn’t. And those of you who are practising politicians will resent my casting aspersions on a whole profession – especially in times of terrible crisis. “It doesn’t help one bit!” you will exclaim. “It’s unfair, unjust and totally unhelpful to be describing the vast majority of good professionals in terms of the awful ones at the top.”
But that’s the problem, isn’t it? When we talk of professional classes such as doctors or educators, we’re talking about roles where training periods can be between one and seven or more years. And whilst this training is taking place, performance, attitude and behaviours are all measured and tested so that the individuals under the microscope of improvement understand exactly what is expected of them – before they go out and practise.
Where is the training-ground of politicians? Local government politics perhaps? On the job, most certainly. My experience at parish-councillor level is depressing. Most significant decisions were taken (or not, as the case may be) on firmly partisan lines. No real thought going on there; no careful analysis of what was really needed. Just small people acting out of personal prejudice – and things they’d picked up from the papers.
Multiply this experience up a thousandfold and what happens? The more you get these politicians moving out of their comfort zones, the less they are likely to use data to guide them. Instinct, impulse and hunch rear their ugly heads. Which is when we get the plague of the greasy-pole theorem I mentioned above.
If politicians truly want to be treated on the same level as other professional classes, they must want to show the rest of us they are prepared to be trained, channelled, instructed and measured in the same evidence-based ways as those they would aspire to rule. And they must also show, as lawyers, scientists, educators and the medical profession do most days of the week, that their vocation and goal in life is to be what they train to become.
For far too many voters, there is a perception that political activity is a simple springboard – on the backs of ordinary people’s interests – to better and materially more satisfying things.
What do I suggest, then, we require of our political class before they can begin to enable our societies? A very short list made up of the following two items:
- proper and professionally couched training and study as a minimum requirement before any formal political activity which involved representing others can be countenanced; and
- a firm and indissoluble promise to never exercise any other profession or activity on the back of one’s political history
Would that do us?
Does that seem reasonable?
What, as a chastened voter, would you think of such changes?
And would you have any other items you’d like to add to the list?