depoliticising politics / re-politicising public service

Ben has a great post on his blog at the moment.  These two sections in particular caught my eye:

[…] Step forward Mr Tony Cocker, chief executive of Eon UK:

It would be really helpful to depoliticise this debate [on energy],” Mr Cocker told MPs on 29th October.

You bet it would … all those pesky politicians, concerned about people being able to heat their own homes – they need to be removed.

And this:

Yesterday, I was surprised to hear a form of this ideology from Jeff Masters, a policy adviser to Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna, at a seminar organised by the think tank Civitas. When asked what Labour’s plans for corporate governance and takeovers were, Masters repeated several times that his team was anxious to depoliticise it and keep the politics out of it.

To which my response was: what is politics for if you’re going to keep the politics out of it?

Spot-on blinking time, wouldn’t you think?  Yet whilst I suspect the motivations of the CEO of an energy supplier, I wonder if Jeff Masters couldn’t be given the benefit of the doubt.  If what we mean by politics is the kind of gravy-trained, self-enriching, back-slapping bollocks the British people are currently labouring under, then maybe we do need to look to depoliticise our politics.  As I suggested in my previous post, a greater attachment to the ideals of public service wouldn’t come amiss in all this nest-feathering cruelty.

As Ben rightly concludes:

Yet the public interest is what we elect our politicians to protect. If they feel that they can’t or shouldn’t be doing that, then surely they shouldn’t be standing for election in the first place?

I suppose the root problem is, of course, they’ve succeeded in convincing themselves that the KPIs of corporate management are applicable to the everyday lives of the humdrum.  I can only, in my most charitable moments, assume this must be the case when cunning politicians (I don’t say intelligent) like the current Mayor of London find it in themselves to play to such unpleasant public galleries in the following quite resistible ways.

In summary, I think a dose of depoliticisation is after all necessary, though perhaps not for the reasons play-the-field CEOs and carefully-honed political operators would both manifest.  Let me be clear.  I have a fondness for free markets.  What I dislike intensely is captive markets and democracies dressed up rhetorically as liberal wisdoms.  What I dislike intensely is the corrupting right amongst us (whatever their avowed philosophical colours) who argue unfettered commercial liberties are justified by such historical liberalisms, only then – in the politics of it all – to trash the consequent implications.  What I dislike intensely is those who may be preaching freedoms for their money-making and not for everyone’s; who may be preaching freedoms for their pulpits and not for ours.

If we need, now, to depoliticise public life, it is because powerful parties (and here I mean precisely not the political ones) have managed to make of politics a tool entirely their own.

If we go into politics, we shouldn’t do so to be a politician any more.  It should be, instead, because we wish to serve the public.  In a sense, politics is so bankrupt that we need to change the “currency” in use.  We need to change the language we use; the assumptions we operate under; the whole infrastructure of expectations.  So bankrupt are we at the moment, in fact, that the similitude between our political capital and historically inflation-riven economies couldn’t be greater.

We need an overhaul of our entire cultural aspirations.  Something as big as New Labour in its moment – but aimed not at the heart of those who must choose to vote one way or other.  Rather, at the heart of those who should be enabling our futures.  Political professionals, who currently look no further than to filling their pockets in the kind of societal denial that allows them to ignore each bitter cry of the dying, disadvantaged and degraded souls out there, reducing them in the process to a dry and disgusting sequence of financial statistics.

This is why we need to depoliticise politics – in order that we can together take a humane stance against a cruel and sometimes inevitable existence; in order that we can together usefully re-politicise public service.

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