Politics and being human


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Category: Reflections 24 May 15

I came across a meme that read: “Politicians and diapers need to be changed for the same reason.” It brought on smiley faces and chuckles, but beneath that is a huge sense of impotence. No matter what the system, democracy comes down to a cadre of men and women on the top with a key to the treasury topped up with our taxes.

I know that politicians deserve their reputation, especially in Trinidad, of living like minor princes of the Raj as they move about with an entourage and body guards in big black cars with an air of importance. But what is the view from inside.

After all they are human. When they first campaigned, when they went around their constituencies and met ordinary people with houses built on stilts to avoid floods to accommodate growing families, they met poorly paid domestic workers, salespeople, they met farmers, young mothers with children from four different, all absent fathers. They’ve met the fourth generation Cepep men and women. They’ve seen it all; the bullet wounds in boys, the grieving mothers of gang boys and road deaths; they’ve met the overweight men and women suffering with hypertension and diabetes. They’ve seen the illiteracy, heard the people who speak with sounds and gestures rather than words because the education system failed them.

There are only 1.3 million of us and proportionally, a massive Cabinet. The UK is not the same place it was when I studied here as a youngster. There is more garbage, it seems. The drivers are less polite, there are more homeless people. Perhaps because of a Tory government that is blatantly anti foreigners, or the menace of the Islamic State clawing at the young Brits, or the rise of the right, but there is a kind of wary acceptance once again of immigrants.

Many young labour activists in particular took the conservative victory badly, with demonstrations that bordered on violence. The thing is, by demonising politicians in our country but expecting them to be corrupt and out of touch we are giving them permission to do just that.

But what if we humanise them? What if we say to politicians occasionally “You are not all scum. Instead of shredding you to bits we will applaud you every time you work for the people. We will try and understand you.” What will happen? Steve Hilton, a former strategy adviser to David Cameron has spoken out on this theme in a new book titled Citizens Arise. Critics have pronounced it “provocative,” saying he attacks the “sclerotic nature of our democracy” that challenges us to “reclaim our lives from a distant elite.”

Hilton is ingenious because instead of attacking the elite he goes inside their heads. He urges politicians and the big businesses that back them to become “more human.” This sounds vague, but it really taps into what makes every human being happy.

He writes: “There are certain things that we accept make life worth living: good health, happiness, beauty, fulfilment, passion, laughter, love, joy. These are the things that dignify our lives and which every individual deserves the chance to experience.

“The burden of government is to provide the greatest chance for us to find what life means and then live it to the full.

“Society has another burden: to protect us from and help us to overcome impulses that are harmful: traits such as avarice, malice and intolerance. There is evil and terrible cruelty.

“These too are human, and while we shouldn’t forget that, we should do all we can to help people to avoid the worst of their demons, especially when their weaknesses hurt others.”

And that hurting others, even by omission, is the biggest point. Politicians’ weaknesses or omission to do their duty with healthcare, education, security, infrastructure, a safety net for the most vulnerable shouldn’t hurt us. Big businesses that operate solely on backing anyone who helps them turn a dollar shouldn’t do it at the expense of being human.

It seems to me that men in suits in big, black cars and protected by uniformed armed men have a duty  to remember. To remember the man waiting for a kidney operation, the fourth generation Cepep boy who, with a bit of real human help and teaching (not toys, like laptops and tablets) could become an engineer, to provide social workers for the girls who use babies from various men as an economic ticket to remind them that they have intellectual capabilities and the means to become self-sufficient.

I agree that the hubris of a big car, and entourage, and keys to a treasury is heady. That having access to first-class travel and the power to award contracts, to create a road, or provide housing (or not), to have power over 1.3 million people could make a politician’s head spin.

But let’s acknowledge that even those in power have moments that make them human. They have setbacks, personal and professional. They may get tired of being bashed at continually, at not having their achievements or efforts acknowledged.

Perhaps as a start, we the people could reach out to politicians, not with obsequious gestures but a simple acknowledgment of their humanity and efforts, and hope that in return they will return the favour to us, the impotent people.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur