Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Alistair Campbell has a point

Just been watching The Culture Show, which this week featured Mark Kermode inviting Alistair Campbell to watch Armando Ianucci's film In The Loop - the big screen version of The Thick Of It. The character of foul-mouthed spin doctor Malcolm Tucker was, of course, famously inspired by Campbell.

It's fair to say that Campbell was rather less impressed with the film than Kermode was. Kermode found it very funny, largely because he accepts its depiction of politics as a venal, corrupt business. By contrast, Campbell felt that the film was largely a cartoon which bore little real relation to the way politics actually operates. He also laid into Kermode for his cynicism.

Now, Campbell probably isn't the best person to make this case, given his role at the heart of a government which took this country to war on a false premise. But he is right to say that the view of politics as a wholly corrupt practice is pretty much without foundation.

Most politicians I know are dedicated, hard-working individuals who genuinely wish to make a difference to the people they represent. I admit that it's mainly Lib Dem politicians that I know, so perhaps my experiences are not entirely representative, but I suspect the same is true of people from all parties. Yes, politicians are human and they make mistakes and quite often they'll say and do things for political convenience, but on the whole they are not corrupt or wholly self-serving.

And that's why I find it difficult to get too worked up about the latest expenses scandals swirling around Westminster. Yes, there will always be a small minority of politicians who seek to exploit their position for their own gain, but most aren't in it for what they can get out of it.

That's not to say there aren't issues which need to be addressed with regard to the regime surrounding MPs' expenses: the cases of Derek Conway, Jacqui Smith and Tony McNulty quite clearly shows that there are. Although only the first of those has, so far, been found to have broken the (fairly generous) rules, the public anger that's resulted probably makes the current system untenable.

But any changes to the system must recognise the important role which politicians play and be sufficiently generous to enable people from a wide range of backgrounds to play their part in public life. And while it is right that the loopholes on the second home allowance and on MPs' earnings outside Parliament are tightened, we should recognise that politicians in this country are not wholly venal and corrupt, and in fact are a pretty decent bunch overall. And so, although I never thought I'd find myself saying this, Alistair Campbell has a point.

2 comments:

Stephen B said...

"But any changes to the system must recognise the important role which politicians play and be sufficiently generous to enable people from a wide range of backgrounds to play their part in public life. "

I agree but continue to be concerned about how all parties seem to get a lot of their senior pols from people whose only experience of the world has been...politics. You know the type - parliamentary assistants, lobbyists etc - the kind of people that seem to have been reading hansard since they were five.

Not sure what can be done about it though.

Frank H Little said...

In spite of all the recent furore, UK MPs are not the most venal in Europe, nor even the highest-paid. However, that does not mean that the public watchdogs should relax.

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