I'm reading Jeremy Paxman's POLITICAL ANIMALat the moment, albeit three years late. I'll do a full review when I have finished it, but I was very struck by this passage...
Being loved is what so much of contemporary politics is about. In a post-ideological age, the Labour Party has built its success upon seeming safe and appealing to people who might never otherwise have voted for it. Yet you cannot achieve radical change without being willing to confront those who might be disadvantaged by it. The difficulty is that the great battles which divided the parties after the Second World War - on nationalisation or nuclear weapons, for example - are finished. The Welfare State brought the state into everyone's lives, but the consequence has been that it turned ministers from lawmakers to managers. And managers of a system which is bound to fail, at least part of the time. Where, once upon a time, governments impinged very little upon people's lives, there is now scarcely an area of human behaviour which is not touched by the law. Yet, while government is all pervasive, it is not, by its nature, particularly effective: the public knows from its own experience that ministerial boasts about the superiority of British health services, education or transport systems, are empty. So the opportunity which the politician thought he had to make an impact on the lives of the entire population is just as easily an opportunity for the citizenry to blame him for the failures they see all around.
In an age when politics was driven by profoundly differing convictions about how the world ought to be organised, enemies were the price of progress. But when all that is being argued about is the mechanisms by which services are delivered to the general public, there is nothing to stiffen the backbone. Politicians have to become evangelists for a system which is intrinsically incapable of delivering what is asked of it: the greatest credibility problem of modern politics is that the political process cannot answer adequately for the performance of the public sector. It follows that the wisest ministers are those who realise soonest how very little power they really have. The number of politicians who can look back on their ministerial careers and feel that they really made a significant difference to their country is small. Roy Jenkins could honestly recall his time as Home Secretary and say that he had achieved something, in endorsing the reforms to the laws on abortion and homosexuality. Margaret Thatcher emasculated the trades unions. Tony Blair gave Wales an assembly and Scotland a Parliament. But quite what the Secretary for Culture, the three junior ministers and their aides write in their diaries each night is
something of a mystery.
And that just about sums up the dilemma of a modern politician or someone who is thinking about going to politics. Paxman has picked up on the Nixonian idea of 'making a difference'. The problems of modern Britain are very different to those of thirty years ago, and as Paxman says, they are more managerial. Not a very exciting reason to enter the political arena is it? Most politicians have great ideas of changing things, whereas in actual fact they are managing things - usually very badly. Food for thought. Discuss.