Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Why do Charlotte and James feel they cannot stand?

There has been a lot of response to Charlotte Gore's post last week where she ruled herself out of standing as PPC for Halifax and gave a number of reasons why she felt she was not suitable to be one ever. Here is a flavour:

Amongst the many reasons why I would make a terrible PPC my personal favourite is this blog. Oh, it’ll take a day or so, but any campaign run by me could be derailed very quickly by finding a few choice quotes. Charlotte Gore wants to axe the welfare state! Charlotte Gore wants to cut spending! Charlotte Gore is pro Business and anti Union! Charlotte Gore wants to legalise drugs! Charlotte Gore thinks the BNP should be allowed on television! That’s just the start of it. There’s enough in this blog to kill any political career one hundred times over.

she also drafts the following letter:

Dear Halifax,

I’m looking for someone. It might be you. It might be someone you know. This is someone who’s sick of politicians and sick of mainstream politics. That’s most of us these days, and who could blame us?

The person I’m looking for gets angry that the Government takes £10 billion pounds - more than twice as much as the once mighty HBOS ever earnt before tax - from cigarette duties alone. They get furious that £30 worth of petrol includes £20 of tax… and for what? This person feels ill when they discover the Government is now spending more than the entire British population takes home in wages, and they ask: For what? Where is the money going?

This person looks around and sees a country brought to its knees, surviving only on loans from the rest of the world. This person knows that Halifax’s biggest employer is the council, and it makes this person angry to think that a town that was at the very heart of the industrial revolution could be sunk so low as to survive only on scraps from the Government table. This person thinks we should be better than this.

But that’s not all. The person I’m looking for looks around and sees a country where trainspotters - of all people - are arrested under anti-terrorism laws and where it has become illegal to take photographs of the police. They see a Government determined to censor the internet, to monitor their emails and internet use. They see more and more rules and laws telling people how they should live and behave: Don’t eat. Don’t smoke. Don’t drink. Don’t drive. Don’t say this. Don’t say that. Don’t vote for them. This person thinks Governments are supposed to be servants of the people, not the other way around.

If you see this person, will you pass on a message? I’d be very grateful. The message is this: “You are missed. Please come back.”

Yours Sincerely,

Charlotte Gore

I posted the following in the comments on the thread:

Charlotte. I feel very strongly that people like you should stand. The very fact that you have the guts and integrity to make your strongly held views known and back them up with robust argument and intellectual rigour makes you an ideal candidate to run for parliament and hold the government to account when you get there.

I understand where you are coming from but I absolutely hate, repeat HATE the fact that many people by the time they get into parliament are anodyne speak your weight robots who speak an almost unintelligble language and appear to have no serious beliefs or underpinning to their views.

So what if you have said a few things that would get the Daily Mail riled? They need to be taken on. It is only through people like you that it will ever happen.

I understand that this is a difficult seat to fight and it would likely be for naught so I am not even necessarily saying you should go for this one but please, please do not rule yourself out from ever standing which is what you seem to be saying.

Later on James Graham of Quaequam Blog fame posted the following comment:

I think you are right and that some of the people on this thread are quite naive: you are totally unsuitable candidate material. If it is any consolation, I am too.

While I think it would be a nod in the right direction, a change in the ‘boring’ electoral system ultimately won’t make either of us more electable either.

I don’t actually think it is that bad that the people who tend to rise to the top of politics have relatively porous views. MPs have to be all-rounders. What you haven’t addressed is how frustrating your life would be battling away at your libertarian agenda in a Parliament where the vast majority of MPs were at best indifferent. How long would it be able to maintain your interest? It would certainly bore me. Why else do single issue political parties like UKIP adopt stance that they won’t actually do any work in the Parliament they are elected to, and just hoover up the expenses for five years?

There are hundreds of different ways to make a difference in politics. Just concentrate on those.

Just to quickly summarise:

Charlotte's argument against herself being suitable seems to be twofold. Firstly she thinks that her views are too extreme and could easily be used against her. Secondly the fact that many of her views are stridently set out on her blog for all to see means that she can't even use the time honoured method of keeping quiet about her real views on things.

James' argument is that MPs have to be good all-rounders (Jacks of all trades, Masters of none?) and that someone like Charlotte with very passionate views on civil liberties for example would quickly tire of the drudgery of the day to day life of an MP dealing with myriad important but often unexciting issues.

I completely and totally disagree with James' and Charlotte's assertions that they are unsuitable to stand as parliamentary candidates. I have not met either of them (yet) but I have interacted with them online and read enough of their blog posts to be able to say with confidence that our parliament would be enhanced were they to be elected MPs. Of this I am sure.

I am 34 years old. I only joined a political party (the Lib Dems) a year ago. I have been fascinated with politics for as long as I can remember but I sated my political appetite by hoovering up political newspaper comment (and latterly political blogs) as well as watching all the TV programmes and analysis. For years I thought that I did not want to get directly involved in politics itself and was happy to sit on the sidelines.

However I decided last year that I had had enough of doing this and I wanted to get involved. I was so tired of seeing politicians not answer questions and not engage with issues properly when involved in "debate". I cannot express how strongly I feel that politics should be open to everyone and not conducted in a secret code only accessible to people who have followed it closely for 20 years and who are able to parse things to understand what is really meant. I find it absolutely infuriating that most politicians find it impossible to be straight with people.

So what if someone thinks that the current drug laws are not working. To me that is self evident from looking at the objective facts. It should not be a political career destroying taboo to talk about this. It should not be off-limits to be honest about what we think should happen with public spending or taxes either. These issues are central to any serious debate about the political direction of the country and we have allowed our senior politicians to reduce the issues to a preposterous game of "YOU WANT TO CUT X THOUSAND TEACHERS!!1" and "YOU WANT TO INTRODUCE A TAX BOMBSHELL!!!11".

I am utterly, utterly sick of this way of politics being played out. UTTERLY. This is why I got involved and I refuse to play the game by these pathetic rules. I do say what I really think about things, I agree with much of what Charlotte says and am delighted to see her saying it.

I am distressed to see James also ruling himself out. His blog-posts are meticulously and precisely crafted to communicate whatever message he wishes to get across and are often persuasive in a way that I myself aspire to on here. James is one of the reasons I both joined the party and got more heavily involved in blogging. If there was any justice, James would already be an MP!

He makes the point that there are other ways to contribute and of course he is correct. Most people involved do not end up as MPs and there are councils and all sorts of other positions within and outside of the party from where people of passion and commitment can contribute. But I still think that the fact that both of these extremely talented people feel they are unsuitable for our primary political chamber speaks volumes not about them, but about how completely bereft the system that we, the people of this country have allowed the political class to construct.

I am not really sure what else to say about this now other than I am determined to do what I can from my little corner to push for politicians generally and Lib Dems in particular to hold themselves up to a better standard. This might sound like a platitude but it is not. I have been banging on about this sort of thing ever since I started blogging.

I will continue to be honest about my views on issues and if/when I find myself a victim of smears from things I have said or written about I will defend myself to the utmost. I am not going to take this lying down because if I do I will be letting this tired and discredited way of doing politics win.

I didn't get involved after all those years on the sidelines to allow that to happen.


Cardinal Richelieu's mole said...

You say, "I find it absolutely infuriating that most politicians find it impossible to be straight with people" but your analysis would be improved if it asked why this is so.

Part of the answer to that is very dispiriting. Do the people deserve a better politics and what would they do if it were given to them? "Given" since they will not seize it themselves.

Yet another part of the answer is that offering oneself as a candidate is not a wholly rational choice for anyone with sense. This has always been true, but the extra elements in contemporary society, not least the idea that people in the public eye are somehow also owned by the public, suggests there are more compelling reasons to stay well away than there ever have been.

Tina Louise said...

I too enquired about standing as a PPC - went to an informative day and read everything. Then I decided I wouldn't fit what was required.

I too have strong opinions that wouldn't look great as headlines. After reading Charlotte's exceptional words, I happily realise that someone else feels exactly the same. I would also vote for Charlotte to be in a position of influence - in a heartbeat.

I want politicians who speak my language, have flaws, are imperfect ...because imperfect is real and real reflects truth.

I am fed up with pretend and my head is filled frequently with the image of the shouting man in that movie (Network?) who releases everything with "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it!"

I'm mad as hell that we are all living lives that are a mere shadow of what they should be, if our resources were better managed.

If families were run the way politicians run our nation- charges of abuse and neglect would follow. The government takes our precious funds and instead of spending them wisely (for the benefit of 'we the people') on health, education, care for the elderly and the bettering of life... squanders them on futile waste after futile waste.

It isn't even the party that is solely to blame - it is the system. The system is populated by those who reached positions of power by NOT putting OUR interests first. These are the ones who 'make it' in politics.

If it weren't for the fact that I refuse to back away from the struggle to get good government for the sake of future generations that include my daughter and granddaughter – I would give up, look away and get lost in distraction.

I can’t back down; so instead, fill with the arguments to all the bad decisions made in government that will affect my life so very severely. I need to do something.

A focus - a point of truth, to pour all this sincere determination into is needed… just don’t know where it is or if I will recognise it if it does.

Anonymous said...

The whole Westminster system stinks, there needs to be a complete re-invention of the political system in this country before honest people can stand and come out the other end having achieved good for all without losing their humanity and morals in the process.

dazmando said...

This is a very interesting blog pos. I read both of the linked blogs and I can only find myself agreeing with you Mark. It is a massive shame that such talented people believe they cant stant just because they wrote there actually thoughts down. We need more people like this not robots

Mark Thompson said...

Thanks for all the comments.

Cardinal Richelieu's mole - I am not naive and I have a pretty clear idea of how we have got to this point with many senior politicians speaking like automatons, terrified of uttering anything that could be construed as a "GAFFE".

That doesn't mean it is justifiable or acceptable. They are destroying our democracy and it cannot be allowed to continue. We need people in public life who are unafraid to speak their genuinely held views.

I think people do deserve better politics and are more sophisticated than most MPs and the media give them credit for.

Your last point is slightly separate from my argument and I agree that there are problems in this area too that need to be addressed.

Tina - I saw "Network" for the first time a few months ago and I also feel like that character sometimes!

Lorenzo - totally agree.

Daz - Yes we do need real people. As Lorenzo implies a lot of them seem to get filtered out of the system.

There are of course notable exceptions, many of whom are in my own party but also people like Douglas Carswell and Frank Field, both conviction politicians who clearly say what they believe and are very well respected for doing so.

marcuscleaver said...

I tend to agree with you Mark in the sense that Charlotte would be an upstanding candidate but I think you're making a mountain out of a mole-hill!

Smear campaigning at a constituency level is often not well researched if present at all. I have no doubt that Charlotte would be able to defend her position if the victim of such a campaign as she clearly knows what she is talking about and has the courage of her convictions.

I don't think you're entirely right to blame some 'system' created by the 'political class'. The local parties are not exactly adventurous in their choice of candidates but if Charlotte is put off by someone legally opposing her view through the media then she becomes part of the problem.

Mark Thompson said...

Hi Marcus. I really don't think I am making a mountain out of a molehill. For me, the fact that politics has become so debased is one of the most important issues of our time.

I am not some mad conspiracy theorist by the way! I don't think there is some shadowy cabal that sits there and decides how politics will work! It is a cultural thing that has evolved over many years and the members of the political class are largely self selecting as the ones who conform to the norms tend to be the ones who do well. It is this that I object to as it seems that perfectly able people who have passion and ideals often (not always) get filtered out.

By political class I am using Peter Oborne's definition which includes members of the media (especially the ones who scream GAFFE every time any politician tries to be human about something), they are all complicit in the sorry state we find ourselves in.

Cardinal Richelieu's mole said...

I did not mean to suggest you did not know why many contemporary politicians find it impossible to be straight with people, rather that applying your knowledge of why would be an approach to offer even more insight into the point you make. I know you are not naïve for I read your blog.

The dispiriting part of the answer includes the point that the behaviour of politicians conforms to the expectations of the people: the people are at least as responsible for the present destructive processes that have made our democracy sick. That the people ought to have better politicians is true, that they get what they deserve is also true (sadly, in these dispiriting times).

Your friend Carswell is on the right track: unless and until backbench MPs count again, they might as well be nullities and any who are not will find life difficult. For many years now, the lack of power, even just influence, has meant there has been no real purpose in being an MP. This has had a consequent adverse impact upon the behaviour of those persons who are and upon the type of people aspiring to get themselves elected. So you are correct in seeking better quality candidates, with their own minds, values and convictions. To get them and the people to accept they should be elected is a very tough ask.

Anonymous said...

"However I decided last year that I had had enough of doing this and I wanted to get involved. I was so tired of seeing politicians not answer questions and not engage with issues properly when involved in "debate". I cannot express how strongly I feel that politics should be open to everyone and not conducted in a secret code only accessible to people who have followed it closely for 20 years and who are able to parse things to understand what is really meant. I find it absolutely infuriating that most politicians find it impossible to be straight with people."