Jayne Dowle: Don’t let politicians wreck your faith in democracy

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
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WHO would be a politician today? Every news bulletin seems to bring a fresh scandal or accusation, dragging yet more elected representatives into the swirling mire.

We’re still reeling from the gruesome details of the sexual harassment epidemic, which reveals that numerous MPs are clearly abusing their power and privilege to take advantage of those more vulnerable. Now we are learning that various senior Cabinet figures have gone rogue.

Parliament

Parliament

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has got himself in a terrible tangle over a British woman threatened with jail in Iran, Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom is in hot water for apparently failing to follow up allegations of sexual abuse and now the Secretary of State for International Development, Priti Patel, has been forced to resign after it emerged that she broke every political rule by holding meetings with influential figures in the Middle East without going to the trouble of informing either the aforementioned Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister.

We ordinary mortals can only watch open-mouthed. Meanwhile, interest rates are on the rise, Brexit negotiations drag on interminably and every area of public policy, from the NHS to housing, seems to lurch precariously from a state of stultified stasis to panic-driven knee-jerk policy announcements.

We can only wonder what our MPs are actually managing to achieve day-to-day to represent the interests of their constituents. They’re only human after all, and there are only so many hours in the day. How can they find time to chase up problems and complaints when they are constantly being dragged into intrigue and back-stabbing plots, on both sides of the House?

I’m far from naïve, but I still believe that the majority of these MPs have sought office because they are serious about making a better world. And that’s why I would encourage either of my two children to follow a career in politics if they wished. Some might think that this would be tantamount to throwing your offspring into the lion’s den. Indeed, entering a cage full of baying carnivorous creatures may seem preferable to stepping over the threshold of the Houses of Parliament right now.

However, we can’t turn our back on politics just because a worrying proportion of the current crop of Parliamentary incumbents seem incapable of following the rules, or putting anyone else before themselves.

We can’t disengage – or encourage our children to never engage – because to do so would allow the bullies and the cads and the advantage-takers to win. If we don’t try to understand politics and encourage our children too, there will be no-one to challenge the status quo.

If I ever hear a parent say that they’re not interested in politics because “politicians are all the same”, I always take issue. It is our duty as adults to bring up our children first and foremost as responsible citizens. We need to make them understand that politicians make decisions on so many aspects of their daily lives. Some are interesting and exciting, such as the ability to travel to foreign countries with a secure British passport. Some are mundane and workaday, such as the collection of rubbish bins and provision of school dinners. All have to be decided on somehow.

This understanding should be backed up in the classroom. The best schools have a school council or such like which exists to allow pupils to have their say on matters which concern them. Usually, a representative is elected from each class or year group. Democracy in action, if you like. We must instil this in our children. And remind them to cherish the democracy we enjoy in our country. It’s worth reminding youngsters that within living memory, not all adults in the UK had the right to vote or stand for political office. How quickly those hard-won freedoms have been sullied by arrogant politicians, who have turned this democratic principle into ambitious political capital.

And yet there are still many individuals who enter politics, whether at local or national level, for the right reasons. We need to remind our children of inspiring figures such as Jo Cox, the Labour MP for Batley & Spen, who lost her life in her own constituency last year.

Here was a woman who set out to make a difference and to use her voice for those who lacked the confidence to speak for themselves. Her political concerns encompassed the international stage, but also focused on ensuring that her constituents received the welfare rights they were entitled to.

She was an outstanding example, but there are many other MPs like Jo Cox, who believe that they are in politics to serve others, not themselves.

We need more people like her in Parliament, and they have to come from somewhere. Let’s not become so turned off by politicians that we switch our children off politics.