Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Thursday 7 February 2008

Sceptical disengagement

One of the things I didn't include in my "five things" is the relative absence (well, that's why I didn't include it - it's rather gone from my life than come into it) of political engagement - and for someone who reached adulthood (-ish) in the 60s, too!

But I suppose I was uncharacteristic of the times. Even then I could see both sides of most arguments, and never bought into the full 60s radical package. I've been very politically active in my time, and for quite a long time too; but eventually I rather lost interest. And now - perhaps it comes with being a bit older than now than most active politicians - I find it very hard to feel particularly excited by any of the personalities: indeed, while I recognise the seductiveness of excitement, I also think it's not actually good for one's health. I long ago stopped bothering with programmes like Today, or Any Questions or Question Time - I like my twopennorth, but shouting at the radio or TV doesn't quite cut it and just makes me look and feel foolish. So I'm not close enough to be particularly concerned about the precise minutiae of which minister said what and when. And I simply don't understand the - frankly - hormonal hysteria with which the partisan bloggers write about these things.

Most politicians - like anybody trying to be a leader or manager in any organisation - are trying to do their best, by their lights. Some lights are dimmer than others, of course, and many are indicating quite the wrong "direction of travel", but precious few are setting up wrecker's lights. Of course, it's a truism that anyone who wants the job that badly probably shouldn't be let anywhere near it; but in most cases, they're simply trying to square the circle of most people's incompatible desires. The trouble is, of course, that so many are so scared of confronting voters with the choices that involves, or of admitting that, actually, "something must be done" is often the worst possible reaction to a complicated problem.

The really interesting political question is the one that no-one can answer with any accuracy. Never mind all those carefully-crafted policy statements and equally carefully-nuanced language, what really matters is this: what will they do when the unexpected happens and they have to choose between equally unpalatable options? What - especially in this age of manic image-protection - is at the real core of their personality and judgement?

With some people, you can get a clear idea, which is why Boris Johnson is such a hopeless candidate for any post of real power. With others, it's not so easy. I didn't have a clear favourite among the non-Sarkozy candidates in the French election, and I'm glad I don't have to make a decision between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. He has an obvious attraction - but I do remember that JFK's inexperience (for all his personal charisma) nearly led the world into disaster.

I hope the person in Arkansas who visits regularly hasn't been too badly hit by the tornados; and for them, and the people in Mississippi, Texas and New York who have also been visiting - indeed for any Obamaphiles - here's something to raise a bit of a smile:

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