A few days ago I was bored and joking around with people on Twitter. My thoughts went off on a tangent and I coined some rules on how to be an MP. Here they are.
- Always answer a different question to the one that you where asked.
- When confronted with a good argument, claim that your policies have not been understood.
- Make any promise you like during your election campaign. After election you can claim things have changed.
- Choose a political party based on your chances of making it to the top, not on policies.
These aren’t actually rules, of course. They are observations of the way that our politicians behave.
Evading the question
We have all seen and heard politicians evading questions during interviews. Some radio and television presenters have become well known for pressing hard for an answer, but on so many occasions the politician will try to deflect attention away from giving one. The sad thing is that politicians feel that they can’t answer so many questions. I would put it to you that if they are ashamed or afraid to give the public the real answer, then they are doing something wrong. A policy that has to be kept secret is not a policy that belongs in a democracy. Sometimes giving the correct answer can be damaging to a reputation or a policy simply because the public do not have all of the information behind a decision – once again this is a failure to be an open government.
“I’m just misunderstood”
Nick Clegg insulted a lot of people during the recent protests against increased tuition fees by suggesting that they had not read and understood the policy on tuition fees, because otherwise they would agree with him.
“I make just one request of those planning to protest – examine our proposals before taking to the streets. Listen and look before you march and shout.” (From The Guardian)
This tactic of insulting the opposition by suggesting that if they read your policy, or were just a bit cleverer then they would agree, seems to be horribly common.
The most famous promise broken by a politician has to be Nick Cleggs anti-tuition fee pledge. He won many votes after he and most of the other LibDem parliamentary candidates signed a pledge stating “I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament.” When it came to the time to vote, though, he voted for the increase. Being in a coallition does not give an MP a mandate to go back on an absolute promise like that and the LibDems would not have won so much of the vote if the pledge had gone on to say “except if we are in a coallition government.”
David Cameron was asked on many occasions during the last election if the Conservatives would increase VAT. He gave the same answer over and over again. “We have absolutely no plans to raise VAT.” He also said “You could try, as you say, to put it on VAT, sales tax, but again if you look at the effect of sales tax, it’s very regressive, it hits the poorest the hardest. It does, I absolutely promise you.” It is clear that he knows that VAT hurts the lowest paid. While this is not the same thing as promising not to raise VAT, he mislead people when he said these things.
The promise to get rid of control orders is another one that the LibDems are likely to break. Instead of clearly opposing them, as they promised to do, they are considering various options, non of which are scrapping them. According to the BBC it looks likely that they will be replaced with slightly less restrictive, but still disgustingly illiberal “Surveillance orders” – another name for nearly the same thing.
It’s my party and I’ll change if I want to
MPs switching party in protest does not seem to be uncommon. I find it as baffling as Anglican priests becoming Catholics.
In 2007 Quentin Davies moved from Conservative to Labour.
In 2004 Jane Griffiths threatened to leave Labour for the Conservatives but didn’t go through with it.
In 1977 Reg Prentice left the Labour party for the Conservatives because Labour had become too left wing.
Just for fun, here is an interesting allegation that Nick Clegg was once a member of the Cambridge University Conservative Association.
It seems that no matter what you believe before an election, actually getting into power means compromising your beliefs. Some argue that it is inevitable, but I don’t think it has to be. I think the current system requires a politician to become two-faced, to make promises that they don’t mean or can’t keep. Once in power, hiding the truth from the public becomes imperative. Things have to change.
I will leave you with this quote from Baron Acton (1834–1902).
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”