Politicians’ lack integrity, but so does the whole political system.

When I first became a councillor there was a standards committee. It seemed to spend a lot of time hearing grievances and counter grievances by various councillors some of whom used it to settle scores or take revenge for perceived slights.

 Thankfully it was eventually abolished.

Today politics is increasingly mired in petty score settling and grievance taking. So, I personally struggle to apply the ambition of this code of corporate governance as it relates to the councillor’s behaviour with the reality of our current Party-based political settlement.

In particular, I struggle with the word integrity, which is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. Political integrity is something personal, something known only to the individual who acts with integrity, and it is difficult to achieve integrity within our current political arrangements.

The public no longer turns out to vote as they did in the past because I assert, they know there is something wrong with the way modern politics works. They suspect when observing politics that there is a lack of integrity by politicians translating into a lack of integrity within the whole system. Yet we are required to demonstrate integrity and adhere to ‘standards of behaviour enshrined in codes of conduct and protocols. It’s a bit late for that.

Maybe it’s because the authors of these blueprints for codes of conduct and protocols can see that politics as we have understood for over two hundred years is now failing, and bringing the whole political realm into disrepute that they try to ‘fix it’ with policy. But you can’t make a democratic silk purse out of a political sow’s ear.

For far too long politics has been destructive rather than constructive, collectively bringing down your opponent or their administration. It’s binary, adversarial, and polarising. The psychology behind it is childlike in its simplicity and is appealing to some people for that reason. It’s ‘attack and defend’ Politics for the playground bully.

To the political outsider, it looks self-indulgent, they see self-aggrandising, grandstanding politicians of every stripe as the typical characters of the political class.

It has not always been like this, because at one time there was an argument that binary politics was crudely class-based and thus tribal loyalty conferred a sort of integrity. Today this is not the case, politics increasingly represents only itself, its processes, systems and procedures, too often undermining integrity by forcing people to vote collectively often against their better instincts.

Allied to this is a new and troubling phenomenon the ad hominem attack, or gaslighting. Because of declining economic opportunities and little actual influence locally, nationally, or globally, old-fashioned Party politics has to find a way to still look relevant.

Therefore, rather than listen to other people’s ideas and debate them, we criticise each other’s intelligence, charisma, values, motives, morality, honesty, and behaviour. Looking away from policy because there probably aren’t any policies and therefore attacking opponents as people, rather than attacking their ideas is easy and is increasingly the only thing left for Party politicians to do.  

Given the lamentable state of Party politics I’d say we don’t need any more, grandstanding political parties, or indeed a code of conduct covering politicians’ integrity, we need a revolution within our increasingly unfit-for-purpose 18th-century political system.