Renewing Hope

 

Dennis Paul Drainville

 

Preface

 

In 1985 I travelled acrossCanadastopping at eight different communities trying to put the experience of poverty homelessness and hunger into some kind of perspective. Every day in the agency that I worked with, we were being challenged with ever greater numbers of people in need and an ever increasing variety of human problems to which to respond. With the support of Archbishop Ted Scott and about 1,200 dollars from the Anglican Church of Canada, I travelled by car, bus, train and plane visiting front-line agencies that were responding to peoples needs.

 

It was on that trip that I visited Stella Mission inNorth Winnipeg. At one time it was known by the name “All Peoples’Mission”. For over a hundred years it has been a beacon of hope to people of many races coming from many different countries who have sought help and support at particular challenging moments of their lives. It was there that J S Woodsworth, a Methodist minister and superintendent of theMissionspent a number of years working with new immigrants and poor people in need of support. During that time he learned first hand the disparity between the rich and the poor and the injustice of a political-economic system that benefited excessively the few over the many.

 

I remember being shown the little room that was his office. It was no larger than a walk in closet. The staff person showing me the room was called away and I had a few minutes to enter that small space. I have to admit it was for me a special and intimate moment. To be in the very room where JS Woodsworth had worked and written and dreamed the dream of a new society where all people would be given equal opportunities and accorded equal rights.  I remembered reading his best known prayer when I was studying theology and I said it quietly to myself as I stood there, “We are thankful for these and all good things of life. We recognize that they are part of our common heritage and come to us through the efforts of our brothers and sisters the world over. What we desire for ourselves, we wish for all. To this end, may we take our share in the world’s work and the world’s struggles.”

 

He was for me, the best example of visionary and compassionate leadership. In that place I was reminded of his passion for others, and his willingness to stand for what he believed was the right thing, even if it meant standing alone as he did when he spoke and voted againstCanada’s entry into World War ll in the House of Commons. Was he an idealist? Yes I believe he was. But he accomplished so much in his life. He has left us all a legacy of hope that together we can and will make a difference.

 

“…’tis not too late to build a better world.” Tommy Douglas

Introduction

 

The illness and death ofJackLaytonwas the source of my motivation to write this social, political and economic critique. I had started to write it many times over the years. Each time I began I would find that my energies would quickly falter and I would lose my focus and inevitably I would throw down the pages and as I did so I would wonder why I found it so hard to stick with this project. It wasn’t that I lacked ideas, opinions or experience as a citizen ofCanada. In fact as I have spent almost all my life engaged in church activities, community work, and politics, I felt I had both the background to engage in such a critique and the right to express my point of view on the society of which I am an active part. And yet, I could not seem to get beyond the most preliminary and inadequate analysis of Canadian society.

 

In late July, when I saw how sick Jack was, my mind went back to the 80’s and 90’s and the political issues and engagements of which we had both been a part. I met Jack in 1984 when I became the Executive Director of STOP 103, a multi-service agency supporting poor and marginal people in the urban core ofToronto. Jack was the fairly new but outspoken alderman for the area that included STOP 103. In a very short period of time I found that his concerns were my concerns: homelessness, hunger, poverty and the environment.

 

As a politician he had passion and boundless energy. He had the capacity to speak with anyone and was able to make them feel important and respected and understood. His compassion led him to advocate for many causes and people. He would never turn away from a difficult or challenging problem but faced it with fortitude and resolve. Although I could never say that we were close friends, the talks we had and the issues and projects we collaborated on made me feel that we were friends.

 

I remember working with him to fight the SkyDome mega project at a time when the streets ofTorontowere filled with homeless and hungry people. His tireless leadership helped to put the issue on the front pages of the newspapers of the day. Although the SkyDome was built, the later revelations of project mismanagement and overspending proved that it was an ill conceived project that benefitted only the wealthy. In the 1990’s his brilliant leadership of the white ribbon campaign caught the imagination of many progressive men and women who dreamt of a world where violence to women was no longer a reality.

 

When I moved to the Gaspesie in 1994, I lost touch with him. In the lead up to the 2004 election Jack telephoned to ask if I would run again as a New Democrat, as I had in 1997. It was not the right time for me, but I wished him well and said I would continue to support the cause.

 

It was seeing Jack, so vulnerable and so brave, and hearing his trembling voice at the news conference on Monday July 25th that galvanized me into action. I started to collect some old notes and I began to prepare an outline of the critique that I had been thinking about for the last thirty years. Although many things had changed over those years, in terms of my analysis, the passage of time had only confirmed my opinion thatCanada was in deep trouble. The downward spiral of our national spirit, the degradation of our political institutions, the triumphalism and greed of the corporate elite and the social alienation and marginalization of so many members of our society were challenging us to renew our commitment to a better society built upon the principles of equity, compassion, diversity and freedom. 

 

I have been a pastor to sick and dying people for thirty years. Although expecting the worst, Jack’s death was like a thunder bolt. He passed from this life to the next on August 22, 2011. That day, the 22nd of August, I began writing, and I didn’t stop until I had finished the first draft on the 8th of September having written 30,500 words or about 75 single spaced pages of text. Never have I felt so focused or driven to get a writing project completed. Though I have written articles and reports and sermons for over three decades, usually changing and rewriting pages of text over and over, the experience of writing this book has been both odd and remarkable. I at times felt a strong connexion to Jack and I had the joy and sadness of recalling many of the challenging events of the last thirty years and fondly remembering his energetic drive and engaging hopeful spirit.

 

Jack’s upbeat personality and great sense of humour went a long way to build relationships. He will be missed by a host of Canadians from one end of Canadato the other. May his spirit live on in the memories that we have of him, and in the hopes that he shared of a society built on justice, peace and equality.

 

“Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people.” – Albert Einstein

 

Leaders and Leadership?

 

When I was a child in the 50’s and 60’s I remember so well the discussions I overheard about our community and the state of the nation. More often than not, those discussions would focus on our leaders. Sometimes my parents and grandparents spoke about our political leaders, sometimes municipal or corporate leaders and often they would also include the religious leaders of the day. So the names of Bracken, Drew,St Laurent, Diefenbaker, Coldwell,Douglasand Pearson were very well known to me from my earliest memories. As my grandparents were both small c and large C conservatives the discussions in our home tended to be warmer and more favourable to that end of the political spectrum.

 

I remember most clearly one conversation that arose between some guests who were visitingTorontoand my grandparents in 1959 regarding the Bill of Rights that had been passed by the Canadian Parliament in 1958. Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, a lawyer from Saskatchewan who had defended many who were charged with the capital offense of murder, and who had criticized the Canadian government’s internment of Japanese Canadians during the war, had introduced and passed a Bill of Rights aimed at ensuring that all Canadians would be treated justly and equitably by the Federal Government and all its agencies and departments.

 

In this conversation Diefenbaker was being forcefully criticized by the guests and my grandmother surprisingly responded in words that I remember to this day. “You may criticize Mr Diefenbaker for many things, but you cannot doubt or condemn his concern and care for the common man. There is nothing more noble or edifying than leading people to understand the moral demand to put others before themselves.” The reason why I remember so vividly her remarks is because, although she was a passionate Christian and a passionate citizen, she would not normally dispute in such a way with guests.

 

The next day, after the guests were gone and after our morning prayers, I asked my grandmother about those comments. I asked, “Nana, why do you think Mr Diefenbaker is such a good man?” Although she seemed to be feeling a bit remorseful about the strength of her defence of Mr Diefenbaker, she answered, “Mr Diefenbaker like all people has many flaws. However, as a leader, he is able to inspire and draw people to believe things and do things that build the common good. This is what a leader is called to do. His Bill of Rights is the best example of this.” These words have remained firmly in my memory for over fifty years. Interestingly, even though I am on the opposite side of the political spectrum those words still inspire me and are the means by which I measure the leaders of our own day.

 

So drawing from my grandmother’s definitions of leader and leadership and my own experience of life, this is how I understand these words/concepts.

 

A leader is a person who through his/her characteristics and abilities leads or guides a group of people toward a particular goal or common task. Leadership is the means or process by which that leader recruits or engages others in its accomplishment.

 

Sometimes leaders are chosen through a process created by a particular institution or community. No matter how simple or complex the community, whether a tribe or a nation, it will necessarily generate a process by which leadership can emerge. Elections and leadership conventions are just two examples of how leaders are selected in the western world, but community clubs, fraternal organizations and churches indeed all groups or communities have a means by which leaders are mandated or authorized.

 

But institutional structures are not the only path by which leaders emerge. Often- times leaders emerge in relationship to a particular time or challenge. Pericles, Champlain, Gandhi, Churchill, Martin Luther King, Trudeau and Levesque are just a few such leaders who were elevated to leadership by their perceived fitness to meet the unaddressed challenge of the times and were able to mobilize the population toward a dynamic and different vision of contemporary society.

 

 

Essential Characteristics of Leaders

 

After more than forty years of engagement in communities and projects and after studying a host of leaders who have been engaged in many public activities like education, politics, the church, community and the military, I have come to a point in my life where I have both observations and opinions about what characteristics make a good leader. I offer them not because I see myself as an expert on leadership, for there really is no such thing, you are either a leader or you aren’t and it is others who are more equipped to decide, nor do I offer them as the authoritative list of those characteristics that define true leaders. This offering is my list and springs from my own reflections on Leadership.

 

Go to the people. Learn from them. Live with them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. The best of leaders when the job is done, when the task is accomplished, the people will say we have done it ourselves.” – Lao Tzu

 

Humility as a characteristic of leadership is essential. Having humility does not mean that an individual is not aware of their own talents and capacities. Humility is that characteristic that acknowledges the equality of every human person and motivates one to live within relationships of respect and mutual support. It is the ground upon which a leader shows respect for others and demonstrates real sensitivity to people and day to day life situations.

“I have never been especially impressed by the heroics of people who are convinced they are about to change the world. I am more awed by those who struggle to make one small difference after another.”
Ellen Goodman

Honesty is the characteristic that reveals itself in all the minute particularities of day to day work with a group of colleagues. When a leader exhibits integrity in decision making, understanding and forbearance when problems arise and kindness and forgiveness in relation to anger and obstruction, colleagues perceive the fundamental honesty within the leader with whom they are working and will be inspired to trust that person.

 

“You can discover what your enemy fears most by observing the means he uses to frighten you.” –Eric Hoffer

 

A leader must be observant not only in her quest to understand the set of challenges that lie before them but they must seek through their observations to understand how various elements work together and affect the community of which she serves.  With the power of observation must go the capacity to  analyze critically and thus to understand the disparate parts of the whole and how they  inter-relate and sometimes shift to form new and different realities.

 

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Courage is essential for any leader. When the going gets tough and it will if the challenges are great, the leader must be willing to face problems head on.  However courage is not found only in aggressive mode, it is found in the leader who knows when the best action is inaction. There are times to reflect and ponder and they also play their part in the working out of any important enterprise.

 

“The affairs of life embrace a multitude of interests, and he who reasons in any one of them, without consulting the rest, is a visionary unsuited to control the business of the world.”.-.James Fenimore Cooper

 

A leader consults. The need to consult is not to do public relations nor is it to “be seen” to be interested in other peoples’ opinions. Any leader who believes that he can lead alone or that he already has all the answers is no true leader at all. The importance of consultation is that it brings the minds, creativity and talents of the many to bear on the challenge at hand. Real consultation usually will see changes made to a proposal. The leader who listens, weighs the evidence provided and incorporates suggestions will inspire team members to greater work and will generate even greater loyalty toward the project and toward himself as leader.

 

“There is a boundary to men’s passions when they act from feelings; but none when they are under the influence of imagination.” – Edmund Burke

 

Imagination is central to the leader’s reflections. Sometimes it is not good enough to understand the present challenge nor the possible solutions that might be employed to meet that challenge. A truly effective leader can imagine a future or an action beyond the obvious solutions because that person can imagine possibilities that might evolve should certain new factors emerge or become part of the equation. Invention and innovation requires imagination.

 

Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.” – Goethe

 

A leader must be visionary or forward-looking.  A leader must rarely be reactive to the community or the challenges that arise. Instead, the leader by being strongly connected to the community, must seek to set goals and help to present a vision of the future that captures the imagination and draws people to want to be engaged in that vision. The first task is to present and explain the vision to the primary group or the team that the leader knows best and with whom he or she works. No leader can communicate alone. If it seems that such a forward-looking plan might work then it needs to be communicated, explained and hopefully  accepted by the community.

 

“If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music in which he hears, however measured, or far away.”Henry David Thoreau

 

When a leader Inspires it not only changes the way people look at challenges but it changes the way they see their own part in the meeting of that challenge. When leaders display confidence and wisdom in what they do and when they emulate characteristics like perseverance, industry and commitment, they help to lead people to dedicate themselves to the Common Good. However, to be more precise, to lead people to dedicate themselves to the greater cause of the Common Good does not include those business leaders whose fiduciary duty is to maximize corporate profit nor is it meant to include politicians who use their leadership talent to support the desire of a corporate elite, or any elite, for that matter. Inspiration means resonating with the yearning hopes of a people, for the day when we all will share in the bounty that comes from our shared social vision and our collective efforts.

 

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

John Quincy Adams

 

Obviously, a leader must communicate. However, the communicating that must be done needs to be of the highest and most competent level possible. Every  leader has to learn the techniques of use of voice, keeping one’s message simple and how to present the vision in the best possible way. Know your audience is not only good sense but a necessary element in the building up of confidence within the larger community. You may have the finest and most exciting vision of the future but if you get the communication wrong, or you misjudge the audience, no one will understand or be moved to respond favourably to the challenge you are setting forth. The preparation leading to a particular communication is as important as the final presentation.

 

A caveat needs to be acknowledged before we leave this section on leaders and leadership. There is one last characteristic of leadership that marks certain people, and places them far above the rest in capacity and potential. We do need leaders but in fact more than that, we need gifted leaders, who are driven not by personal hubris to unattainable or selfish goals but by their desire to respond to the aspirations of their people who yearn to attain goals which are based on the common good. I add this section because there are those who might argue that Napoleon or Robert Mugabe have many of the characteristics that are found in leaders.

 

Plato in his Allegory of the Cave in Book 7 of The Republic, attempts to portray in the form of word pictures the process by which the soul is educated, leading it from darkness towards enlightenment. According to Plato a very small minority attain the highest level of education; they are the philosophers who can distinguish beauty, truth and ultimately the greatest ideal: the Good. These philosophers once they have come to see the world as it truly is are then required to go back down into the cave to educate and lead the people. The Cave Allegory is Plato’s attempt to explain the place of philosophy and philosophers in society. [i]

 

One particular part of Plato’s dialogue is germane to my thesis about leaders and leadership. He puts forth the view that we in society must be extremely wary about choosing leaders who love to rule and who actively seek to rule. Rather, we must choose those individuals who have seen the light, or have been enlightened, for those who seek to rule will fight with others who also seek to rule, to the diminishment of the whole of the state.  Plato is convinced that the best rulers are the individuals among us who have attained wisdom and are not desirous of the exercise of power. To put it in a different way, those who seek power for its own sake are not the individuals who should lead the state. Of course, the challenge is to try and discover the motivations of those who are seeking the leadership. Often it becomes evident only with the passage of time.

 

Where have all the Leaders Gone?

“The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men, the conviction and the will to carry on.” – Walter Lippman

WalterLippmanwas certainly on to something when he wrote those words. Effective or great leaders build up a group of followers who believe in the leader’s vision and are willing to be inspired and guided by the leader in the task ahead, but what happens when the leader is no more?

 

Question:       When is a leader, proven a leader?

 

Answer:          When the leader is gone and there are competent individuals who have the leadership capacity to follow in the leader’s footsteps and carry on the important work.

 

This is the ultimate test of a leader: that she/he looks beyond themselves to the inevitable moment when they will no longer be there to guide, support and direct those who are left to carry on the important work. It needs to be stated that this is true of every organization, corporation, institution or nation. However, this essential attribute of a leader takes on even greater importance in the case of leading the nation. The sudden death of Jack Layton is one of those rare exceptions to the rule.

 

My aim in reflecting on the theme of leadership is not strictly motivated by the present times and the seeming paucity of strong capable individuals who are recognized as potential national leaders. I believe, in fact, that leadership is always an issue and that there is no one way to assure that a clear and easy succession will ever take place. However, as long as succession is understood as a crucial element of national leadership and that there are obvious individuals who have the appropriate credentials and who have over time built up a public profile there will be a suitable transition into the leadership of a national party at the required time. There are a number of examples from recent memory which highlight the way this process can work.

 

With the departure of Pierre Trudeau, the Liberals spent a number of years working out who could best lead the party, John Turner or Jean Chretien. Despite their different approaches to politics and their different levels of success, both individuals had undoubted political talent, experience and a substantial following. When Chretien retired, the Liberals again saw a power struggle between Paul Martin Jr. and John Manley which eventually led to the years of the Paul Martin premiership. However following the years of Paul Martin’s leadership, the Liberal Party was not left with as clear a choice of leadership candidates.

 

The fact that the Liberal Party has been perceived as the dominant governing party for the last seventy years has affected significantly both the political culture inCanadaas well as the political agenda. Although this dominance has on the whole, engendered stable government, it has also retarded creative and fresh responses to a host of issues that have increasingly taken on greater prominence in recent years. Issues like global warming, the environment, the role of the military, law and order and health care have been taken over by other political parties whose political platforms are increasingly seen as being more interesting and even attractive to Canadians. The rise of neoliberalism and the ascent of the Conservative party may well be the direct result of the Liberal Party’s present incapacity to sort out its leadership issues and renew its program of policies.

 

Experience and Mentoring: Important Elements of Forming Leaders

 

Many leaders in our society both in politics and in the larger community have been formed through the experience of working and giving leadership within the volunteer sector and in local government. This hands-on experience helps to ensure those individuals with talent and potential are able to move on to greater and more responsible positions of leadership. Examples of this abound: Jack Layton worked as a community activist and a Toronto City Councillor before entering Federal Politics. John Crosbie was a City Councillor inSt. Johnsand a member of the House of Assembly inNewfoundlandbefore becoming a Member of Parliament and later Lt. Governor.

 

Many leading politicians served senior members of their party or cabinet members or were mentored by elder statesmen when they started out in politics. Prime examples of this are: Jean Chretien who served under Prime Minister Lester Pearson and Finance Minister Mitchell Sharp, and Paul Hellyer who served under Brooke Claxton the Minister of Defence. Discerning who the future leaders might be and helping them to develop their leadership skills is an important part of the formation of leaders. Where this awareness exists leadership is strengthened and society as a whole benefits.

 

The Challenge of Leadership in the Abusive Society

 

As anyone in a significant leadership position will attest, the present age is not leadership friendly. Many people choose not to pursue a life in public affairs because of the negative and often unfair criticism that is focused on politicians by the media and by the public at large. The border between what is fair reporting and what is unfair is now so blurred that journalists cross the boundary all the time.  The problem with this trend to be hyper-critical in the media is that it feeds the public negativity toward politicians and the political institutions that govern our society.

 

It is open season on almost all politicians. I have seen damning critiques of their clothing, their private lives, and even read attacks on their integrity based on the flimsiest and most speculative opinions. The lowest of the low in reportage is the personal attack and sometimes the criticism of the family of a particular politician  at the very moment when the individual is in a crisis or has made an error of judgement which becomes public. The problem with hyper-criticism in the media is there seems to be no restriction as to what can be said about politicians or their families, if they fall from public grace. Surely it is enough for the politician to be censured and pay the political price.

 

As many a politician has found in media reporting, an uncorrected lie becomes the truth of tomorrow. It takes only one journalist’s unresearched article or misreport regarding a particular politician and the misinformation steamroller begins its inexorable movement. It is interesting and alarming to see how that one misreport can be taken up as “accurate” by many other journalists. The possibility of then turning back the misinformation is close to impossible. And to make matters worse, thanks to search engines and the internet, the offending journalistic offering will dog the steps of the unfortunate politician until he/she shuffles off this mortal coil.

 

There is of course that less innocent form of this problem called disinformation whereby a Canadian news service suppresses a fact inconsistent with its economic or political bias or when a wealthy ideologue launches a newspaper or TV network with the objective of destroying an established outlet to the right or left of his political views or when false information is planted clandestinely in Canadian media by foreign business interests or foreign governments. As I will be examining these kinds of occurrences in the Section on The Media I will not elaborate further here. I only wish to draw the attention of the reader to the fact that all of these “untruths” can and often will follow the poor politician through his political life.

 

In 2006 a Leger and Leger marketing poll rated peoples trust in professions. It found that firefighters were accorded the greatest trust attaining 96% by those who responded to the study whereas the trust level of politicians was the lowest rated at 14%. During the 2011 campaign, an Angus Reid poll, trying to gauge the confidence of politicians, social institutions and government found that 78% of respondents felt that Federal politicians were becoming less and less honest 75% felt very disappointed with the quality of leadership of our federal political parties and 62% believed that democracy in Canadais in crisis. [ii]

 

Polls are polls and must never be confused with facts, they are merely a snapshot of where people’s thinking is on a given day regarding a particular topic. That being said, there is a message that needs to be received by politicians who are charged with the very serious task of making governmental decisions on behalf of Canadians. They are not trusted by the citizens ofCanada. Few politicians would be surprised to hear this and yet I have seen no recognition of this reality, neither in a strategy to combat this insidious attitude nor in any public discussion regarding how this breach with Canadian citizens might be healed. A positive way to approach the devastating results of the Leger and Leger poll is to flip the poll around and see that even though only 14% of us find politicians trustworthy and 62% of us believe our democracy is in crisis most of us want our politicians to be trustworthy and our democracy sound. Doesn’t this sound like a vacuum waiting for a strong leader to fill it?

 

Nevertheless, this widespread lack of trust influences a number of issues surrounding leadership: the popular vote in Canada is tending to go down which means fewer people making critical decisions in a democracy, individuals with talent and abilities are not likely to enter politics to be seen in such negative terms which leads to a much smaller pool of talent from which to draw our leaders, and no matter how important the issue or the governmental initiative, people lack interest and are cynical regarding any governmental statements or actions which then results in little or no public discourse regarding important issues. Ultimately we the people ofCanadaare the great losers for our democratic institutions do not work effectively and decision making is confined to a smaller and smaller group within government.

 

Leaders and the lack of a private life

 

Public life has certainly evolved over the past half century. If you were elected to parliament or became the leader of a corporation or union in 1950, you would have experienced a fairly clear divide between your public and your private life. This is not to say that there hasn’t always been heightened scrutiny about the lives of our leaders in society, but rather that there was a built in filter that delineated more clearly what was considered public and what was considered private. Brazen, shameless or unlawful behaviour has always usually been seen as unacceptable and publicly criticized or denounced. However back in the 50’s and before, a person’s family or marital problems, sexual orientation, drinking or periods of depressions were generally considered off limits.

 

This is decidedly not the case anymore. With the advent of paparazzi, gossip columnists, and news magazines expressly published to communicate the private lives of leaders in society, there is no more possibility of a private life. Our contemporary journalists and the media corporations that employ them by and large see little or no difference between public and private. I once observed first hand a journalist who himself had substance abuse and sexual issues publish outrageous articles about a politician who was going through a difficult time in his personal life. I privately challenged the journalist to explain by what right he thought he had to destroy this man’s political and family life. I thought his response both defining and instructive. He replied that there is no private life for those who choose to live a public life. In other words, once you make the decision to try and build a better society and engage in giving leadership in your community you give up the right to any privacy.

 

I think this premise is both dangerous and destructive. What human person doesn’t have experiences in her life that she is less than happy or proud about? What person hasn’t made mistakes? There is no person who doesn’t at some point have her own challenges in terms of her family or personal life. Under the present approach, whatever weakness, illness, or human mistake becomes attributable to a person giving leadership, those experiences may well be publicized for the world to see. To accept to live under these conditions one would have to be either a paragon of virtue, and from my experience no one is, or you have to take the awful risk of being an ordinary human person and hoping that you stay under the radar of those journalists who revel in such reportage.

 

The obvious loser in all of this is the individual who is legitimately trying to serve his community and sadly becomes a target. In fact we all lose. Many people who have great gifts and yearn to build a better country choose not to take jobs of greater leadership because they do not want to become a target nor are they willing to allow their family and friends to be subjected to scrutiny and who can blame them? The media have played their own part in diminishing the pool of leaders who are willing to commit themselves to public life.

 

It is not just the lack of privacy that deters citizens from running for political office. Talented people who have succeeded in business are deterred from public service by the fact that they can earn more money honestly in business than honestly in politics. (This may be just as well, in some cases, because CEOs earning 100 times the average income of their employees are so out of touch with the ordinary citizens that they are unlikely to represent them well as MPs.) Similarly the public might not be well served by representatives whose first careers were spent in academe or a space program or the armed forces.

 

Some individuals are deterred by the cross-currents between integrity and success in public life. Our political culture has advanced to the point where the candidate can be challenged with a long list of divisive issues and would have virtually no hope of success if he declared honestly his personal position on each of them. Politics has been changing rapidly in the age of electronics but one question has not changed since the ancient times: is it possible for an honest person to succeed in politics?

 

Surely the debased quality of debates in the House of Commons, legislative assemblies and municipal councils must deter some talented people from entering public life. Proponents of TV in the House of Commons argued decades ago that the behaviour of MPs would be improved by public scrutiny but by 2011 it is worse. For example, I compare the House of Commons debates with administrative tribunal hearings. In the tribunals, as in the House of Commons, the parties are polarized; their representatives are partisan, and the arguments are intense. However, in my limited experience, I find that the discourse is normally civilized and professional in tribunals but frequently repulsive in the House of Commons.

 

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke

 

 

 

 

 


 

ENDNOTES

 

[i] See: Plato’s The Republic, Book 7, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/

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