There is now plenty of evidence, we appear to be living in a post responsibility society, or at least a post responsibility polity . The question is, if it starts with politics then where does it end?
It isn’t news that politicians try to avoid responsibility, perhaps what has changed is their expectation that once caught out they will find that they have to respond to the consequences of their actions.
Respond to consequences is a polite phrase for resign in disgrace.
A carrot and stick form of motivation doesn’t work if you only offer people carrots.
Responsibility is a notion that goes along with the privilege of high office, it embraces the notion of duty, it follows the concept ot service , the notion that you are not just doing whatever job it is because you want the salary and and your moment in the limelight.
I’m not going to suggest that this is applied to every politician, I know many and I understand them enough that they balance their ambition with their own understanding of the responsibility that this requires of them. They have a moral compass, not a one directional moral GPS.
But I suppose my notion is that if those who don’t accept responsibility for their actions are high enough up the greasy pole then their example is one that spreads not just within their like but within the society for which they are exemplars.
Historically you can perhaps look back at Thatcher. Some would suggest her politics gave greed legitimacy. You could argue that her economic mantra and the behaviour that led to the bank led crash in 2008 are inextricably linked . As a society, or rather as those who could in society, we tolerated that mantra because it gave some of us a short term edge and financial return. You could argue that those who didn’t get that edge are reflected in the discontent that brought us populism and Brexit.
We certainly got the banks and the financial institutions that we deserved.
Over the pond last week we saw a poignant, affecting and desperately painful spectacle of the two top political leaders; Harris and Biden and their spouses dressed in black and dipping their heads as the hideous figure 500,000 deaths from COVID was recognised. It was a recognition of political failure to serve the public. Not THEIR failure but the failure of politics to serve. It is hard to recognise failure if you don’t recognise the cause and for that reason Trump is incapable of any kind remorse .
500,000, it is an appalling price they have paid for a deficit in political leadership. Appalling but not quite as bad a figure as in the UK. With 20.32% of the population of the USA if we were proportionate to the USA then we would have around 101,000 deaths , we have over 120,000. Not only is our death toll the highest in Europe it is proportionally worse than the figures of a country where it is widely accepted, the key politician in charge of the country behaved with unapologetic cavalier disregard.
It is a sobering thought we have a worse death toll than someone who didn’t try .
I am certainly not suggesting that politicians in the UK acted with the same cavalier disregard as Trump, but it is a sobering thought that we have a higher per capita death rate than in a country where the leader didn’t try . Do our politicians feel that performance is something where they carry personal responsibility ?
The problem with that sentence is that the evidence seems to suggest that some do not and not just individually but collectively, and additionally we are getting much worse at holding them to account.
Not a politician but in an a age when the differentiation between politicians their wives husbands and special advisers is a bit blurred shall we start with Dominic Cummings? Possibly the most palpably wrong trip that has ever been taken to Durham and yet ….no consequences. Instead a collective reinvention of the limits of discretion to explain away the unexplainable .
Then we have a politician who gives contracts for ferry operations to an organisation that have no ships, and who remarkably is recycled for high public office a matter of months after that debacle, but thankfully rejected .
In Scotland we will see a judgement that might conclude that the First Minister breached the Ministerial code, potentially a resigning offence should it be proven. Aside from the fact that she vehemently denies it, why should she resign? Her conservative opponents are showing a hypocrisy of staggering proportions because she has not just one but several cases of conservative precedent to quote.
Priti Patel? Serial offender it is alleged in bullying staff, breach of ministerial code .PPI bought from people who don’t make PPI, undisguised cronyism . Fraudulent claims of industrial proportions running to billions of tax payers money for “ bounce back “ loans . Consequences ? Zero . Responsibility recognised? None .
Then there is Matt Hancock. Hancock is to the conservatives what the former Soviet Union would recognise as a “ useful idiot.” He can absorb vast amounts of pressure without complaint, can be relied upon to play to the message and can be discarded without fear of damage to the rest of the team . Protected for now until his utility is spent . He acted it seems unlawfully in PPI provision . So? Well the Conservative press, that is to say most of the press, run distraction . A resigning offence that is swept off the front pages by the exploits of the highly photogenic and ever useful Harry and Meghan. Responsibility zero. His punishment will come later when he is elevated to the House of Lords.
But we must be honest, we bring this upon ourselves . Even when we know that the “facts” behind the Brexit story were lies we return the same party to office. Frankly we deserve no better .
The concern though is deeper than our leaders. Where they lead others follow. If you institutionalise greed as good as Thatcher did then why would people not act with greed as a motivation ?
If you embrace cronyism with relish why would you expect others at a different part of the food chain to act differently?
If you accept some lies because they suit your position then what lies can you legitimately not accept?
For me it seems to start with responsibility at every level. If you accept that you are responsible for your actions and there are consequences that follow then that sets the tone . The problem is that once you allow the standard to slip then it creates a chain reaction .
Part of the problem is that as a society we have the collective memory of a non political gnat . Appalled by what they see many people do not feel that politics is relevant to them and do not engage . Cognisant of that politicians, particularly now, are engaged in “last fact “ reality positioning . This works on the notion that people who vote have close to zero political memory. Present the last successful fact firmly enough and they will neglect to remember what came before. If you control the processes that holds people to account then you can control the consequences of your actions .
How many times have we heard the phrase “ now is not the time ?”
Translation? The Vaccine programme is working well, push the benefits of that firmly enough and who cares about what came before? If people don’t care then responsibility for what came before becomes redundant .
How can this be reversed?
It seems to me that one choice is to examine the polity that serves us and question if it is fit for purpose. If we consider that it is then we have to accept the results that we can see now. If we consider that it isn’t then we have choices; apathy and its consequences or change.
I get asked “when nothing ever changes why are you politically active?” My answer always is that I don’t accept the premise that nothing changes, things are always changing, our responsibility is to make it change in the right direction.
Responsibility matters .