Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Leaders Shouldn't Follow Us. We're Idiots.

Leaders Shouldn't Follow Public Opinion. The Public Are Stupid. They Should Challenge Public Opinion And Change It.

But Simon Jenkins has a strange opinion:

"Only fools criticise (or praise) politicians for what they say. It is what they do that counts."

Polly Toynbee has a similar opinion on Ed Miliband. He might say he’s going to continue austerity, but he isn’t really. He wants to save public services, so he's only going to balance the budget by 2020 - so he doesn't have to cut at all. This Toynbee sees as a disguised blessing. Miliband just can’t come out and say that spending cuts are unnecessary, because everyone thinks they areHe has to play by the rules.

Closet fairness. Secretly, he cares about the poor and vulnerable, and wants us to have a fair country. But he won't say it too loud because it isn't popular enough to say that. It's more popular to shriek hysterically about the deficit. 

But what kind of a leadership is this? Should leaders dishonestly kowtow to popular opinion? Should they follow the direction in which popular opinion is already moving, until they gain enough power to – in some degree – enact their actual beliefs? Leaders shouldn’t be play by the rules; they should make the rules.

Certainly, courting public opinion is what Blair did. And he's a paragon of virtue and integrity. Thatcher had won the cultural battle over public discourse in the 1980s, demonising Trade Unions and the working classes, and turning greed into a good. Tony Blair didn’t try to challenge this – he just went with the flow. He turned Labour into the country’s second Thatcherite party, so that he could win votes from the neoliberalised electorate. This is why Thatcher said her greatest achievement was creating New Labour. And why many think they no longer have a choice. 

Firstly, we need leaders to challenge public opinion because public opinions is so often wrong. The shrieking media keep us in such a state of blind, confused hysteria that we very often work on the basis of what we’re told; not what’s trueWe think that 15% of girls under 16 become pregnant every year, for god's sake. Come on.

Secondly, if we don’t challenge discourse and opinion, you are not a leader – just a technocrat. And you will never have as much impact as those who do. The society we live in is made up of more than just the laws that constrain us; it is the beliefs that animate us.

It highly important politicians lead and address public opinion. This is why we have leaders, rather than anonymous technocrats. In fact, it is arguably more important to change discourse than to change laws. Laws can be repealed a year later. It is only by changing discourse that really deep, broad and long-term changes in society happen.

Millions currently feel no qualms about avoiding tax. This can’t be changed merely by punishing it and making laws. You’ll never catch them all. A far more effective – and cost-efficient – way to change behaviour is to make people want to behave differently. Let’s make tax avoidance despicable.

Stanley Fink: "I did what any Average Joe would do - I put some of the £180million I made in hedge funds into a Swiss Bank account. so I don't have to pay for plebs like you to be kept alive by the NHS".

Former Tory chair Stanley Fink is a politician who decidedly does not shrink from entering the culture war. He pronounced in the Evening Standard this year, that “everyone avoids tax”. This kind of sermon sets a paradigm. It normalises and justifies a certain way of thinking. If we hear enough that we are entitled to avoid tax, we are sure to. How many millions will be lost to the treasury in tax avoidance by the words of people preaching tax avoidance? It’s impossible to quantify, but important to ask.

Thankfully, Miliband’s rhetoric on tax avoidance is strong – he evidently wants to challenge this idea. But to do it well, he needs to challenge a lot more misconceptions.

Tax is seen as a burden. Let’s make paying tax a noble privilege. Let’s argue that tax is the price you pay for living in a civilisation which cares about you. 

Similarly, the NHS is already a beloved institution; let’s make Jobseekers’ Allowance just as adored – it is the safety net that we are lucky to have. Let’s stop assuming GDP growth is how you measure improvement, and make equality the test of a healthy economy. Let's challenge the negativity towards immigration, because in reality it brings in 34% more to the Treasury than it takes out. Let's not let the Daily Mail win that argument, just because they shout louder. They have no facts on their side. Let's "stand up for migrants" as the Green party do. Also, if possible, let’s challenge the hatred of Westminster and make the word ‘politician’ conjure up images of passion and dedication. 

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