Did you hear Kezia Dugdale’s statement announcing her departure from ‘front-line’ politics to become a name on the letterhead of the John Smith Centre for Public Service? Did you manage to hold on to your breakfast?
Her career having suffered a catalogue of self-inflicted setbacks and evidently weary of being just another British politician squatting in the Scottish Parliament on the seats nominally reserved for an effective opposition, Ms Dugdale informs us that she is now off to “lead” the organisation which bears the name of a Labour politician who, being dead and therefore immune to scandal, has been elevated to almost mythical status. If Kezia Dugdale’s role as director is more than a sinecure then I fear we may be about to discover that the name of John Smith is not as impervious to tarnish as some suppose. Where she leads, embarrassment and disgrace tends to follow.
With apologies to those of a delicate disposition, I offer Dugdale’s statement in full.
I have devoted my working life to public service, and this is an incredibly exciting new opportunity for me to lead the work of the John Smith Centre.
Throughout my career I have taken on tough and challenging tasks, and my next task is to help rebuild faith in our politics.
Disruptive events and the rise of populism has led to increasingly polarised and emotional politics where rational, evidence-based thinking has lost its standing.
Faith in public service, politics and the political process has to be restored and that progress must be sustainable.
Once we’ve waded through the cloying smugness and got past the self-congratulatory pomposity, perhaps we can see what is actually being said here. Kevin McKenna, writing in The National, has helpfully translated it into “no-bullshit English”.
Let’s all calm down and stop being nasty to each other. You won’t solve multi-deprivation, child poverty and health inequality by going on protest marches and shouting. These sorts of things will always be with us. Best to keep your voice down and train for a nice job in politics to ensure that Britain is protected from radical change. That way we all get to keep our nice second houses and find fancy non-jobs in places such as this.
Superficially, this just another of those exercises in self-righteous virtue-signalling bemoaning the asserted fact that politics has become too polarised and confrontational and aggressive. Typically, such utterances lament ‘division’ as if division wasn’t an essential characteristic of politics and deplore “disruptive events”, such as referendums, as if they weren’t a vital part of the democratic process by which we manage those divisions.
But listen more closely to the rhetoric of politicians and public figures who trundle themselves onto the media stage riding a bandwagon whose passengers are all trying to outdo one another in the shrill condemnation of ‘abuse’ and what you hear is a desperate desire to dictate the terms of debate and ‘manage’ political debate. It’s not about improving political discourse. It’s about controlling it.
It is surely no coincidence that the thinly disguised language of control over the political process used by Kezia Dugdale is also to be found on the website of her new employer.
Politics has become a discredited and disrespected process. This acts as a huge disincentive to talented people choosing to enter politics. People passionate to effect change will go elsewhere, and we will all suffer as a result. We need to act now: it is critical to the social and economic wellbeing of our country that the most able and willing to serve represent us.
The John Smith Centre
It may be my understandable distrust of anything associated with the British political system, but I cannot be comfortable with the thought of public policy being in in the hands of people who are being ‘prepared’ for this role by an organisation with a very particular idea of what public service means and how politics should be done. To the extent that “politics has become discredited and disrespected” not the least of the reasons for this is the rise of the professional politician. People who know much about political theory, and precious little of political ideals. People thoroughly trained in the method of politics, and little grasp of its fundamental purpose. People who are who are more concerned that politics is done in a particular way than than it is done for the right reasons.
Will political discourse be improved by being constrained by arbitrary rules contrived by people for whom political passion is anathema? Will political representation be improved by making it the exclusive province of people with degrees rather than people with dreams? Doesn’t it all seem desperately, depressingly soulless?
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