In the run up to the Big Day I thought I’d present my top five Christmas wishes. In reverse order here’s number 4.
Wish #4: I wish truthfulness becomes a defining characteristic of our national life.
We are coming to the end of an election year. An election marked chiefly by the political classes inability to be able to be truthful.
Some of these ‘terminological inexactitudes’ were small ones. ‘I agree with Nick,’ clearly falls into that territory. Some were clearly whoppers. Like being able to simultaneously reduce the deficit, invest more in public services and maintain everyone’s living standards. Others were, according to the courts, downright unlawful.
Truthfulness as a trait is much less admired than acting on principle. So you can say any old nonsense that comes into your mind. ‘No more top-down reorganizations of the NHS,’ reassures the voters especially if you are intent, for reasons of principle, on launching the most radical reorganisation of the NHS in its history.
You can pledge to do something and then sacrifice that pledge for a higher principle. And you need not tell anyone that your pledges had any priority order attached to them.
Of course all the parties indulged themselves in this orgy of unstraightforwardness. Labour’s failure to have a convincing story around the deficit was seen for what it was by the electorate.
But we shouldn’t be too hard on the political class. The obvious reason why they avoid being truthful is because they believe, with a lot of justification, that we voters don’t want to hear it.
What we like is tough talking by politicians who offer us easy choices.
We may look back with pride on Churchill’s premiership during the Second World War but he did not win a general election to become PM. How many might have voted for him in 1940 on a platform of Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat? Truly?
Public servants have become the butt of so many untruths since May it would take forever to enumerate them. Here’s some highlights. Falling public sector productivity – we’re lazy. Effective training – wasting money on role-playing. Providing good working environments – wasting money on pot-plants. Communicating effectively with the public – spinning. Etc., etc., and so forth.
Of course national politicians have much to answer for in the corrosive atmosphere of eroded trust in our public institutions. Duck houses? Moat cleaning? Tree surgery? Last night’s Panorama revealed a poll by IPSOS Mori that showed the public are unforgiving and untrusting of bankers. We believe that the banking industry has learned nothing from the collapse in the world’s financial systems caused by their shameless exploitation of ordinary peoples’ greed and credulity.
MPs behaviour over IPSA suggests that they too have drawn the wrong conclusions about the public mood. If I were them I would shut up about IPSA and get on with it. We are an unforgiving lot when we feel we have been sold a pup. Ask Mr Blair about that.
An outbreak of truthfulness would serve us all well in the New Year. A simple, ‘Yep, we cocked that up, sorry,’ would go a long way to improving our faith in public life. Much more so perhaps than a host of commissions and inquiries.
So here’s to a truthful 2011 …