There’s been a whole host of stories going around with respect to the impact of policy-making by top-level leaders on people they really hardly know. It’s not just the revolving doors of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” that makes up the nexus between expensive-to-run political parties and their big-name – often unfortunately implicated – financial sponsors and backers which we see today. It’s also the fact that people like George Osborne and Lord Freud – who make all kinds of spurious comments about the poverty-stricken, and what they do and why, without any first-hand knowledge of the condition – know for sure that once their political careers are over, they won’t have to face down any disgruntled voters (or worse perhaps, pointedly aggressive) as they go about their evermore doddery business (it comes to us all – it’s our responsibility to enjoy it as gracefully as possible) in golden retirements of polite society.
For that’s the reality: all these Cameron & Co people have such gilded lives that not only do they not really see what is happening right now; they will never have to do so at any future moment in their existences. Unless, of course, they decide to volunteer at what will surely be one of the most poisonous legacies of their regimes: food banks.
So it was that this idle thought then got me thinking. On previous occasions I’ve suggested that we all be obliged to take regular on-the-job training to encourage us to understand the world from all kinds of perspectives. As I said then:
[…] From high-and-mighty governors to humble barely-surviving governed, the world would surely become a better place if only we could see it properly through each other’s eyes.
So my question must be: is anyone out there at all interested in creating a Point-Of-View Machine?
Or are you all far more interested in setting up monolithic positions of revulsion and non-cooperation?
To be honest, though, since I wrote that piece, I’ve realised that most of us who are without power have readily attempted to see things through others’ points of view. And precisely those who should be doing this most are the citizens of this country who refuse to do any such thing: our leaders in general – and the aforementioned Cameron & Co in particular. It occurs to me, then, that it wouldn’t be a bad thing – to refresh democracy, its actors, its discourses and so forth – if we decided to write not our version of the American constitution (I always shudder at what I perceive inexpertly has happened across the Atlantic, and how – in a referred way (referred as in pain, I mean) it is even beginning to impact on our own little island) but, rather, to write a very specific and focussed job and role contract between democratic representatives and the duly represented.
Yes. It would go as follows. Anyone who went into politics would immediately start a clock ticking. This clock would only tick for a certain maximum initial period – say ten years. (Of course, they could always spend less time in the profession if they so preferred.) The clock in question would therefore count how long they were in the business of politicking, and would only stop ticking when they stopped being a politician. At the end of this period, they would be obliged by law to take up an activity which paid them the minimum wage for a period of time exactly equal to the period they had been a politician. After that, they could repeat the experience, having gained a kind of sociopolitical credit and right to participate in the body politic as a duly-elected democratic representative once again.
The virtues of such a system?
- It would guarantee an unavoidable connection between the representative class and the represented.
- It would, as already suggested, refresh discourse, positions and attitudes and, what’s more, allow the lowest in society to be powerfully – ie via the law itself – respected and even (in a way) feared by the highest.
- It would remind us all of the importance of maintaining broader attitudes to the concept of equality, and help to correct the imbalances of perceptions which possibly exist on both sides of the poverty divide.
So not a written constitution, but an abiding and fundamental contractual relationship between all political representatives and all those thus represented.
What do you think?