Roughly a month ago, I wrote in an article the somewhat controversial line “those who know nothing of politics have become enamoured with politicians”. Though perhaps a little insensitive, I stand by that statement: on both sides of the aisle, people make the mistake of fixating on an individual, and using that person as a basis for their political opinions. And there is a significant danger in doing this, even if it is not necessarily obvious.
The most glaring danger is that by allowing the charm and charisma of an individual to become the standard against which your political judgement is made, you judge the validity of ideas and proposals against the individual first, and how they reflect on him: this, as opposed to the standard of judging the suitability of a candidate by his ideas, results in judging ideas by the individual who holds them. As an example: Labour has changed their position on leaving the European Union single market on multiple occasions in the last month alone. But the inconsistency of Labour’s position does not matter: all that does matter is what Jeremy Corbyn is saying today; never mind what he said yesterday. Consequently, ideas are no longer the priority.
There is a strange end-justifies-the-means reasoning involved here. The overarching goal of the politician – be it equality, liberty, tradition – is the justification for however we get there, provided we do get there. And on occasions, this is justifiable: no-one wants to make a mess of Brexit, no matter what the newspapers say. But to judge the validity of staying in the single market on who is saying what, is the fallacious mistake we must steer clear of.
In doing so, the capacity for political decision making is handed over to someone else, and we become thoughtless automata who do not engage their critical faculties, allowing any decision made to be considered acceptable, provided they are made by the individual in question. This goes even further, and endangers the political process more so: the individual politician becomes the Saviour, the one figure in the entire political scene capable of righting the wrongs and solving our problems. They become the sole possibility of redemption, and by extension infallible; the consequence of this is that if they are seen to fail, it is not their fault, but the fault of someone else, or the system, or the movement that backed them. If this is so, then the obstacle to the Saviour’s success can be removed – by any means necessary.
For clarity’s sake, what I am not criticising is the ability to trust a politician’s judgement: rather, that is what I am trying to defend. Similarly, I am not suggesting that everyone does this, or even the majority; it is perhaps the rarest of political phenomena – but is important to be careful, and we can only do that by knowing the dangers. What I am criticising is the mistaken tendency to assume that, just because a politician may be a conservative or a socialist does not mean the legitimacy of their ideas rests on them being a nice, likeable or charismatic person.
And the reverse is true also: because you do not like someone, it does not mean their ideas are utterly invalid. A politician may be smug, or he may be cowardly, or rude. This does, of course, matter, because it affects his ability to implement his policies and how he may command respect of his colleagues; but it makes no judgement on the validity of his ideas. I may personally despise some politicians, but that does not mean I think their policy suggestions or general philosophies are not respectable. Almost all politicians wish to improve the lives of their people; they simply disagree on how to achieve that goal.
The mistake is made in thinking the following: it does not matter if a belief is true, right or even good – all that matters is that it is a belief held by the “right” person.