Conspiracy or Incompetence?

Author: Keith Clayton

Let me first set the record straight about politicians. Most people think of them as corrupt liars and backstabbers of the most villainous kind, they attribute them with grandiose plots of Machiavellian ideals and Orwellian intent. To paint them this way though, implies a mastermind of intellect, an unbreakable camaraderie and a near legendary degree of cunning. Now let me tell you, I have walked among them, heck, I was one for a time, and I found none of these things. They are, first and foremost, ordinary people, like you or me, the same loves and hates, the same successes and failures, the same strengths and weaknesses we all have. Sure, some are annoying, snide, some even downright vile to be around, but some are also kind and generous, open and pleasant people. This isn’t some trick of rhetoric making them appear more than they are, I know rhetoric, and it may shock you to learn I found most politicians do not. So what’s really going on, why do they come across as such “arseholes” to use the phrase I most often hear them called. There’s three things at play.

Firstly, filters. People see them this way because that’s what they expect them to be, all they ever hear is about these sinister plots and things that seem to help nobody, so it must be a backhand deal right? The wise among us generally consider that they should be suspicious of anyone with power, and they should constantly be on watch for abuses of that power. This is sensible response, we have to be the watchers, its the only way the system works, but that doesn’t mean they “are” up to these things, we just have to question if they might be. We shouldn’t judge anyone based on somebody else’s opinions, and that applies for politicians too, and we can’t have broad strokes either, these things must be attributable, we live in an innocent until proven guilty system after all. So we can’t just say all politicians are bad because they enacted a law I dislike, you can guarantee some of them will have opposed it, you can usually even find out who, and that will tell you a lot about them. Most importantly, if a politician doesn’t seem to have done much that you have an opinion on, the best course of action is instead of worrying about what Jimmy down the road says, choose to have no particular opinion about them until you have something to judge them on.

Secondly, misunderstanding. Simply put, politicians don’t “get” us and we don’t “get” them. Due to the nature of their work they live in a completely different world to the one we’re used to, and I’m not just talking about privilege though that is a significant factor. We working class have an erratic schedule, the majority of us work 9-5 Monday to Friday but many don’t, there are shift workers, part-timers, you name it, politicians typically do not, most of their work is based around meetings and getting from place to place. This means they often have gaps in the middle of the day we’re they’re at a loose end so its difficult to understand why people complain about not being able to get to the doctors, or grab some lunch, or why we might have to work 20 hours of overtime over the weekend, that sort of thing generally never happens to them. They move around a lot too, they are in a constant state of flux from one place to the next and given the large amount of time many of the important ones spend in the capital it is understandable that for them London’s needs tend to come first. Because of this, they struggle to understand our world and so when they make decisions they often get it dramatically wrong which can have huge backlash, but I can tell you from experience something that may be hard to hear, the vast majority of the time the vast majority of politicians make decisions that they honestly believe is to the benefit of everyone, there is nothing sinister about it they just make mistakes, which brings me nicely to my last point.

Thirdly, malevolence versus incompetence. Be honest, how many times a day to you manage to screw something up, if you’re anything like me you’ll have lost count by the time you’ve made your breakfast. Now remember, politicians are just ordinary people too, and just as prone to errors of judgement. There’s a lot of tendency for when a politician does something that seems to make no sense to the common people, to blame it on them being corrupt, very little consideration goes into, maybe they think it’ll work but it won’t, maybe they’ve just misunderstood the point entirely, or maybe you just weren’t the target audience. There is an old saying that you shouldn’t attribute to malice that which would be adequately explained by incompetence, and the logic goes that most people don’t see themselves as evil, in fact quite the opposite, but people are often incredibly stupid, how is it then that politicians perfectly mastermind their evil plot to rule the world over multiple generations? Spoiler alert, they don’t. They haphazardly meander through life making mistakes left, right and centre to such an extent you will probably never know what their true intent was even if they told you. In my experience, the are three typical paths to becoming a politician, firstly, of those kids who never knew what they wanted to be, some will end up studying a politics degree, and then subsequently wind up running for office in some form, I’ve met many of them, very few of them ever had much of a plan for life they just go where the wind takes them. Secondly, there are folks unfortunate enough to be staring down the benefit system realising they might never be gainfully employed and grasping desperately for a way out of that hellhole they find politics, so they sign up for a party and start climbing the ladder. Finally there are the rarest of all, people who just got so tired of the way things are they decided to do something about it, these people are often immensely altruistic and typically very wise, but they also tend to shun responsibility believing themselves underqualified for the job. These people are not sinister, they do not have a plan, they are just trying to make the best of what they were given like you or me, so we should really stop treating them like the comic book evil genius and start helping them figure out what we want and how best to get it.

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