Last night I went to see Anna’s drama group’s annual performance for parents and friends. The play was one the kids had entirely produced themselves. I may be a little biased here, but I honestly think it could hold its own on the Edinburgh Fringe. It combined satire, comedy, drama and tension almost seamlessly as it explored issues around drugs.
The most powerful scene in the whole play was when drug dealers, who’d picked up a vulnerable young girl from the street, threatened her and her family unless she acted as their mule. It as a tense scene, exceptionally well acted by the three girls.
Interspersed with that frightening tale was the backdrop of celebrities and politicians running an anti drugs campaign. The politicians, Mr C and Alex Fish (and I feel I should point out that Mr C is the PM, not his deputy for the avoidance of doubt) were every bit as vacuous and shallow as the celebrities. They were also guilty (in the play) of blatant hypocrisy as well as criminal moves on the dance floor.
I would never expect my daughter to take anything less than a questioning attitude to authority. However, it worries me that a group of the brightest, most talented teenagers have such a cynical view of politicians, portraying them as entirely narcissistic and unpleasant. The last thing you’d ever want is for them to be deferential but the edge to what they’d produced is a cause for concern.
In my experience of almost 30 years in and around politics, I’ve found that most people in all parties are decent folk who want to change people’s lives for the better. There is disagreement in philosophy and approach, but most are in it for the right reasons. The culture and perception, especially in the wake of the expenses scandals, that they are all out for themselves, is false. There are plenty valid reasons to criticise them, from naivety to incompetence to lack of intellectual rigour and also reasons to cut them a bit of slack, too. People make mistakes and learn from them. It’s a fact of life. Yet, when a politician does it, even if it’s not that serious, it can be terminal. I’m not talking about the obviously self serving mistakes, but instances where they’ve tried to do their best and it hasn’t worked out. The more time spent suggesting solutions and the less pumping vitriol into the atmosphere, the better in my view.
It strikes me that both politicians and the media need to up their game. Where does the perception of self obsession come from? Well, sometimes from the proponents themselves, in the way they conduct themselves. Even those of us in politics watch the circuses that are FMQs and PMQs with an undercurrent of despair. Those pantomimes take up in total half an hour a week, yet the angry exchanges they contain are most likely to be all people see of what goes on in Parliament. Nobody wants to hail people actually getting on and working together and getting the job done.
The media loves to talk about splits and fallings out and politicians kicking lumps out of each other. Working together? Not so much. Hopefully the Leveson Enquiry will open people’s eyes to the tactics and lack of ethics in journalistic practice and will make them more aware of the agenda behind the stories in our papers.
Politicians need to take a long, hard look at the public perceptions of them. They may not be true, but they are there and they are influencing people. The bright young people on the stage last night had something to say about the issues of the day. They showed knowledge, creativity and emotional intelligence. They are exactly the sorts of people it would be great to have in politics but they’d probably reject it.
I’m not suggesting that people should go into politics expecting deference, or not to be laughed at. That’s never going to happen and nor should it. Surely it’s not too much to ask, though, that our politics is conducted in an atmosphere of a little more mutual understanding and empathy. With the European economy on the brink, with the future of Scotland at stake, surely it’s not too much to expect quality debate and not mudslinging.