Keith Howell: Time has come for a new kind of politician: less spin, more honesty

Politics and truth have become uneasy bedfellows of late, with reputations of politicians across the spectrum suffering as a result. Some might consider this a longstanding issue, but recently matters seem to have become tangibly worse.

There is a tendency nowadays towards celebrity politics

Much as we want politicians to speak honestly and act with integrity, the party political machines act to stifle individual opinion, favouring a projection of cosmetic unity.

Politicians undoubtedly start out with the best of intentions, expecting to make a positive difference for us all. Yet for those who make it to the top, political careers so often end in ignominy. A reputation for being able to do almost no wrong, can covert in the blink of a political eye to being vilified and blamed for every ill imaginable.

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The world of politics has always had its cruel side, but something else is going on now, and we are all playing our part. There is a tendency towards ‘celebrity’ politics, encouraging our politicians to play to a 24/7 news mentality, where spin is more important than doing the right thing. Too often the electorate is treated more like an audience to be entertained, rather than as a public to be served through effective government. Meanwhile, the substance of politics is increasingly being dominated by an adversarial approach between parties, as well as between the media and politicians. Respect for each other is too often a casualty.

Equally, there is a reluctance to be honest about what is going wrong, instead maintaining the pretence of all knowing perfection. Yet fostering a public perception of infallibility is always doomed to failure, as even the best of political operators cannot hide they are as human as the rest of us, with all the foibles that infers.

The world of politics can be incredibly demanding, but whether in government or opposition, our politicians need to rediscover their connection with the rest of us.

They need to break loose from the ideological straightjacket that can so stymie independent thought. As politically risky as that might seem, speaking honestly, and operating in the real world spectrum of what is possible rather than feeding us a diet of spin, would be a great way to start. The public have had enough of unrealistically ambitious promises destined to disappoint.

It is time perhaps for a new kind of politician, depending more on refreshing honesty and less on guile: one who can use a collaborative approach across party lines in the interests of all; recognising that once in office, the country’s best interests must genuinely come before seeking political advantage; communicating without seeking to belittle those with alternate views.

Ultimately, we need a new kind of political leadership, with genuine respect for both the public and their political opponents. In most walks of life we rightly expect honesty and respect as a minimum standard. It is time for politics to join the modern world and take that approach too.

Keith Howell is a business consultant. He lives in West Linton, Peeblesshire and blogs on www.nupateer.com