“What is it that makes people want to be politicians?” is not a question we often ask ourselves, more likely we might ask “Why would anybody want to be a politician?” in such a way as to suggest that we already know the answer.
I have a long held memory that Tony Blair’s response to the first question was “I believed I could make a difference” but I couldn’t find it on the Internet. What I did find was his valedictory speech on leaving the Commons.
“Some may belittle politics but we who are engaged in it know that it is where people stand tall. Although I know that it has many harsh contentions, it is still the arena that sets the heart beating a little faster. If it is, on occasions, the place of low skulduggery, it is more often the place for the pursuit of noble causes. I wish everyone, friend or foe, well. That is that. The end. “
That hints at bravery under fire, an adrenaline rush and a purposeful idealism. Recognising that the general public associates politics with deceitful and unscrupulous behaviour, and that his speech was being televised, he cleverly seduced his Commons audience with the insider argument of we know better. And of course they cheered him to the rafters.
Having identified idealism how about ideology. What if you are fundamentally driven? You have a range of choices from the godless Marxist- Leninism with its “scientific” principles right through to the “religious right” where Marx and Lenin are replaced by the Koran, the Bible, L Ron Hubbard? In between there are other political doctrines, nationalist tuggings, racist dogmas and sectarianism.
Here’s another reason, dynastic. If you want to become a politician it is more likely that you come from a politically committed family. Roughly one tenth of cabinet members between 1868 and 1955 were themselves sons of Ministers (political variety) and over half of the last fifty Prime Ministers were the children of MPs. Apparently there’s also a strong correlation between lone or lonely children and subsequent political careers, and sadly almost half of all Prime Ministers have lost a parent before they have reached eighteen.
What of the idea of public service, of giving something back, perhaps best associated with a patrician class? Alec Douglas Hume if anybody can remember him, or more recently say Douglas Hurd. Not only public service but also public duty. Douglas Hurd served Ted Heath and also Margaret Thatcher, his presence serving as a recognition of a more traditional conservatism.
How about self interest where people enter politics for financial gain, power and influence or other benefits for themselves, family or friends? “ Politicians are only in it for the money. “ is a cry often heard; after all politics is no longer a vocation but a professional career. “There is no such thing as an honest politician, how can there be?” is the argument; everybody carries baggage and with public life the baggage gets bigger as political, social, organisational and public service orbits intertwine, there are always conflicts of interest ergo anybody wanting to be a politician should be automatically disqualified, which of course would have ruled out Heseltine immediately he sketched his route to 10 Downing Street on the back of a fag packet at Oxford.
Finally there’s destiny . Taking up politics is merely fulfilling one’s destiny. De Gaulle, Churchill, Thatcher are perhaps examples of where circumstances and fate have combined to propel them to a position where they tell their people that there is no alternative, that they are being governed in their own best interests, our time and your time has come.
So, where do our local politicians fit into this very crude categorisation? Some perceptions of local politicians fit very easily and it is possible with some of the more complex personalities (again I am relying heavily on public perceptions) to see an amalgam. Then there are the ones who appear to have undergone a Damascene conversion, where do they fit in? And of course this crude categorisation could well be incomplete. Some wit said we get the politicians we deserve but that is only half the story. Anybody prepared to stand tall. Given that most of us by virtue of being Sluggerites are interested in politics it will be mildly interesting to see whether negative or positive viewpoints prevail, my money’s on the latter.