Friday, 4 November 2011

The Dirty Word Politics

Overheard from local TV news, an item about an NHS (public sector) hospital which had run into a lot of criticism, including from local members of parliament: an MP saying, "This is NOT about politics, it's about patient care." Presumably the senior doctors, who had hit back at the criticism, had accused her of "playing politics".

Now politics, as I argued in my posting on the pitfalls of being customer-centred, is the process by which any open society resolves disputes. You don't do it by diktat of the King or the President-for-Life, or by flipping a coin, or by selling the decision to the highest bidder. You do it by a process of debate and a decision by someone who can be called to account. There are many blots and weaknesses in the process, but the alternatives are not attractive and bad politics does not damn politics any more than bad football damns football or bad soup damns soup.

So did the MP think the care of hospital patients was outside politics? Seems to me if politicians behaved as if such a thing was nothing to do with them, we wouldn't be pleased. "Playing politics", however, refers to irresponsible politics for short-term party or personal gain, which is a bad thing and should be punished by criticism and by voters' votes - though in my experience any politician who raises something uncomfortable for the people in power gets accused of playing politics, just as media are when wrongdoing is exposed.

Earlier today I visited a website where there was discussion of the punishment of a politician who'd been convicted of falsely claiming expenses (those who share my background will know it was Lord Reservoir). He came in for a lot of understandable stick. But one commenter said all politicians were crooked. Now you may find this hard to accept, but that isn't true. At the very least, some politicians are more honest than others. If you react to corruption or other obvious wrongs by saying "they're all the same", that excuses the corrupt and cynical of all political punishment. If you are cynical and venal, you do something wrong and people don't blame you any more than all the other politicians, how can the system be made cleaner? If people react by saying, "I won't vote any more," that suits the exploiters fine.

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