The recent private member’s attempt to introduce the power to “recall MPs” was alarming. Not only was it a ridiculous and inappropriate attempt at Americanization but, far worse, it completely missed the point of the public’s disenchantment with politics.
It is of course perfectly reasonable to expect (perhaps even compel) MPs to resign their seats if they have committed a criminal act. It is something quite different to enable an MP elected by the people of a constituency to be recalled forcing another by-election just because the voters suffer a bit of buyers’ remorse or because a special interests group gets a bit aggravated. They will get their chance again at a General Election soon enough – that’s how it works!
People are fed up with politicians – that’s to say, the whole shebang. They are fed up because politicians spend so much time talking irrelevantly about irrelevance. Take Ed Miliband’s recent claim that he would work “with every fibre of his being” to “improve working people’s lives” in Scotland… what does that even mean? What it means is Ed Miliband hasn’t a clue how to improve people’s lives – and people know it.
In fact, when asked about their own MP, most people are relatively content. However, the notion that, even when they’re not, people are going to take the time and effort to gather the signatures for a recall, only to replace that MP with another politician, is ludicrous. That there are some MPs who don’t see this obvious point rather demonstrates the very problem they alleged they were seeking to solve!
The first thing politicians need to grasp is they cannot actually solve all our problems. Very few of the problems I encountered when taking over attorney for my father as his dementia developed, for example, had anything to do with politicians. Even the over-officious bank officials or ignorant mobile phone company managers cannot be legislated or even regulated out of existence. At no stage, in fact, did it occur to me that a politician could “make my life better”. The same applies with other family issues I am current confronting; and with some of my business challenges; and with the various illnesses of those close to me. In fact, I have found public-funded voluntary organisations and the Health Service absolutely superb. I appreciate this does not apply to everybody, but I am also sure I am not alone in saying that the public-funded services I’m using are great – there’s nothing useful a politician can do for me. So let’s not pretend there is!
The second thing politicians need to be open about is that if they do intervene in one person’s favour, this may well disadvantage somebody else. If my client gets their message heard better than a rival, that’s good for me; but in government your role is to represent everyone without favour. So yes, you can avoid bringing it water charges to save me a few quid a month, but you may need to sack a few public-funded workers to afford to do so; you may decide to protect the type of investment that has secured a good friend a good job, but remove a few college lecturers to achieve it; you may decide to protect my friend’s daughter’s job, but stop another hard-working civil servant’s chance of promotion to do so. All of these may be good for me, but bad for someone else – or, of course, vice-versa.
The third thing politicians need to be frank about is that they are often reacting to global phenomena. The rise of China, the threat of Ebola, or even the collapse of Tesco have nothing to do with politicians (even the latter, occurring within their jurisdiction). Nevertheless they could have significant effects (or not). None of these effects was planned or even foreseeable when politicians sought election.
In other words, even relatively senior politicians are relatively powerless. The start to restoring faith in them is to admit it!