The Starring Quality for Politicians

We might be on the way to a perfect storm. Tax rises are on their way, energy prices are already there, we’re probably in for a new bout of food shortages because of our reliance on imports and let’s not start talking about the Northern Ireland protocol. If you can explain how it’s working (or should work), you’re doing a good deal better than me. 

It looks as though our politicians are in for a rough ride for at least the foreseeable future. I’m not too sympathetic. It’s a job that’s very oversubscribed and they chose to enter politics. They can always leave if they’ve had enough, particularly if they have a reasonable level of independent wealth and are not reliant on their MP salaries.

I’ve been wondering what makes a good politician. The qualities needed to get there seem obvious. Clearly, determination is way out in front. Can you imagine continually knocking on those doors of strangers, being told firmly to go away and still going on? No, nor me, I’d slink away at the first opportunity. 


I’d say you need a strong sense of self-belief, maybe even arrogance, to think that you can do the job better than others, and a resilience to keep on going even after you may feel you’ve been publicly humiliated – not winning that constituency seat for example. Such failure is very much in the public eye; a person needs to be pretty extraordinary to get over that. 


And then, if you’re lucky enough to get the job, you need to be almost a verbal contortionist if you’re to be considered for a ministerial prize in the future. Imagine those being sent out to support a PM and then learning within a few hours that their leader had changed his mind, leaving them with metaphorical egg on their face. It’s happened more than once recently. Those ones have to be brazen too.


All public figures need charm and believability to convince you/us of the truth of what they’re saying and a persuasive style to assure us their path is the one we should choose.  


What do we have so far? Self belief, arrogance, brazenness, charm, calmness under pressure, resilience, persuasiveness and, dare I say it, an ability to interpret the truth just that little bit. It shouldn’t be a prerequisite but, increasingly, that’s how it seems to be. And if you doubt it, go back and read an interview with a key politician about an important issue and then read what s/he has said some while later. You may be surprised to see how their recollections may vary.


You may notice that all these qualities can be good or bad, depending on how they are used. Brazenness is borderline just bad but the others have a value that is useful for the common good.


There is, however, one stand-alone quality that can only be for the common good and, I’d argue, is essential if you are to be a decent politician or a decent person in any kind of public office. 


Empathy, that’s what they need. The ability to be able to imagine and understand what it might be like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. 


Imagine taking a private jet back from a global environmental conference when you’ve just been telling people to cut back on their own carbon footprint.


Or maybe you’ve been partying (gathering?) when you made the rules telling people they mustn’t, on pain – best case – of penalty notices and imprisonment or – worst case – helping to destroy the NHS or the life of someone you love. 


And then there’s tax rises at the same time as food shortages appear or, when the food’s about, the prices are much higher because of those same shortages. And the person making the decisions about our finances has a spouse with unimaginable wealth. You see where I’m going here?


If those in positions of power had imagined how they’d feel in a less privileged position, they might have avoided being in such a pickle now. With empathy, they might have changed one or two of their own actions and thus lessened the chance of a fall in popularity and the potential loss of their own jobs. 


I’m not biased. I can think of an ex-minister from another party saying he was: “Intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich as long as they pay their taxes.” Then there was a senior politician from yet another party who left politics and went off to seek his fortune in the US – lucky him, he has.


All I’m saying is that it would be so much better for all of us if those in positions of power and influence over our lives could ask themselves how they would feel “if”.


If only they could do that, I get the sense it would be so much better for all of us, and maybe we’d all feel better too, even during the tough times ahead.