Posts tagged professional politicians
Posts tagged professional politicians
Politicians have adopted the code language of the corporate world, and it’s hurting their connection with voters.
The professionalisation of politics into a career more than a calling, has been accompanied by adoption of corporate phrases and concepts. I was reminded of the issue in a recent BBC story which noted the jarring effect of the term “self executing” in Obama’s 2013 acceptance speech.
The rise of these coded phrases is due to an all-too human effort by those in the political world to upgrade the apparent sophistication of politics. We all want to feel proud of the work we do, but politics is unpopular. It’s also just a little too grubby and sordid for many would-be professionals - all this vote catching and and shoulder rubbing with the masses.
People in politics have adopted corporate-style language so they can present their chosen career to themselves and their peers as requiring a high degree of smarts.
Politics has undoubtedly become more self-consciously strategic; the art and science of politics has improved. Politicians and their staff do attempt to think deeper about the vote-related part of their job. In a sense, this blog is itself representative of the maturity of the political profession.
The irony of the use of corporate language in public settings is that it indicates just how unsophisticated politicians are, and how self-conscious they are about showing off.
You see, strategy should ALWAYS stay behind the scenes. If you want to connect with people, you talk in their language, not yours.
Politicians are simply copying a common mistake of the corporate world - because the problem occurs there as well, when internal code is used in communication with those outside their world; those who are often the targets of their code and strategic concepts.
Truly sophisticated professional strategies are never publicly expressed. Instead, they should define a completely different tone, manner and method of communication that connects with the audience.
Obama made a major mistake when he used the term “self executing” - not only did it chill the emotive and inspirational language he was using to reach out to people, it revealed the people behind him, who they hang out with, and a self-conscious attempt to appear smart.
The political world will be be something to be proud of when its exponents can plan and execute smart, sophisticated concepts, but use simple, understandable, common language to bring it about.
A new movement in UK wants to get people back into politics - not professional politicians.
Reacting against the “professionalisation” of politics documented in this blog, a movement called Democracy2015 has been started. It’s aim is to revolutionise British politics before the next general election.
The movement claims
incompetence of government and betrayal of voter trust by career politicians has chipped away at the public’s faith in politics”.
A political class has gradually emerged in the last 25 years whose only interest is in winning elections and gaining power.
Apparently this revolution will
reverse public apathy by offering the chance for members of the public to engage with current affairs beyond general elections.
I’m not sure it’s quite the sort of revolution that really changes things?
The movement is the brainchild of The Independent’s founding editor, Andreas Whittam Smith.
It looks more like the sort of insipid idea that comes out of Government strategy rooms and wine bars.
In my post on the absence of “real life” politicians I highlighted the need for the era of professional politicians to gain professional skills.
An excellent article in The Age, by Troy Bramston, has echoed these sentiments. He claims that;
Politicians focus on the science of politics, “the discovery of what to do,” but neglect the art of politics, which is the “practice of how and when to do these things.” Without mastering both, nothing of lasting value can be achieved.
He argues that modern politicians are experts in the science of politics but not the art:
They are expert in using scientific tools such as focus groups and opinion polls. Some are adept at parliamentary procedure. They can write political advertisements, spin the media and carry out routine campaign functions and the basic administration of government.
I’m going to have to disagree with that. I think he mistakes professional era politicians practicing these skills with being well versed in them.
Troy thinks the problem is that they lack:
a talent for the art of politics. This includes building consensus and understanding the importance of compromise. Being able to interpret public opinion and lead it with spirited advocacy. Knowing how to grease the wheels of government to work in their favour. Having a capacity for the hard slog of policy development and consultation. Leaders who are prepared to take risks and champion a long-term agenda. Or possess the gift of oratory, able to give an inspiring speech or an interesting interview.
I’m not quite sure of the nature of the ‘art’. I think Bramston is right about the hard slog and skill in relationships. But it’s also about purpose. Politicians with those skills need to be motivated by a particular purpose to put them into action. When the ‘science’ is learned on the job, there doesn’t seem to be room for an original of self-defined purpose.
Bramston thinks that the lack of purpose is why politicians who seem to skilled in the science, lack connection with the public.
It is not surprising that 72 per cent of voters would not return Julia Gillard’s government if an election were held now. Or that Tony Abbott has a -31 per cent net approval rating or that Gillard has a -33 per cent net approval rating. Politics seems devoid of purpose. Integrity and intelligence are in short supply, and courage and imagination have been lost. Major policy challenges are ignored, or if they are tackled, the solutions are hamstrung by being either deeply flawed, badly implemented or lacking public support. It is why most voters are disengaged and disillusioned with politics. Why party membership is in long-term decline.
I think this is a little comparable to the woes of organisations without product that means anything deep to people. You can have all the skills of marketing and positioning, but unless you’re passionate about the product you deliver, and people want it deeply, you’re just filling time.
An excellent article from Nick Bryant echoes in Australia what I’ve pointed out about NZ and the UK;
For the first time in Australian history, “political professionals” make up a majority of Canberra parliamentarians.
He describes two Labour MPs, Leigh and Brodtmann, as notable because they
had bucked a system that not only heavily favours political professionals, apparatchiks and hacks, but has come to be virtually monopolised by them.
He picks the many political professionals leading the major Parties;
former political staffers occupy the two most senior seats on the front bench.
While accepting that many major political figures have come up through the party ranks, Bryant claims:
the colonisation of parliament by party professionals has had a hugely degenerative effect. From the acid partisanship to the poison of Question Time, Canberra is giving off the stench of decay, as small, stagnant ponds are prone to when they fail to be replenished.
The trend has been noted over the past decade;
In 2003, John Howard bemoaned the shrinking political “gene pool”. The year before, a senior Liberal delivered a speech in Melbourne warning that declining party membership rolls were giving rise to a small political cadre. There were “fewer, less representative candidates” and “fewer, less-mainstream ideas on which to draw for policy”.
The irony of that speech is that is was written by another insider - so even the critique of political professionalism is simply a theme used by political professionals.
The speech was entitled Operators vs. Representatives, and its author was Tony Abbott.
In my piece on the unremarkable changes to ‘refresh’ the NZ Labour Party, I mentioned the shallow call from UK Labour for more ‘real life’ candidates. The call was wonderfully torn apart in this column from an ex-Labour adviser, Dan Hodges.
UK Labour seemed to ‘call’ for more business people as MPs. Actually, it simultaneously called for more working class MPs, more women, etc. As Miliband put it;
We need a politics where politicians look like the constituents they represent
Miliband put his finger on a key reason for the crumbling of public faith in politics - the rise of the professional political class. People there as a career not a calling, sourced from the middle class, and often lacking in professional skills to do the job.
He is partly right, but in totality it’s bollocks. Politics has almost never had people that look like the people they represent. Frankly, voters DON’T want people like themselves running the country. They want people ‘like’ them, but a smidgen better at the job of running a country.
As the column points out, Miliband is actually calling for fewer of himself:
“Roughly one in four MPs, before they became MPs, were effectively full-time politicos already,”
In that respect I have sympathy. Professional politicians often lack ‘real life’ working and living experience that would better relate them to the people they represent / govern.
I also argue that those for whom it is a profession should learn the skills necessary to be better at it. Miliband might be okay if he accepted what he really was, and got better at the job. If the learned about psychology, sociology, political philosophy, political history, ideology, economics…
Being a politician is a remarkably hard job. What we need is more people skilled for it, rather than more people who were simply skilled at being at university or plumbing.