Oct 2008 - Policies, not gossip, matter in politics

01 June 2013

IN THE August 2007 issue of the Journal, we welcomed new Transport Minister Ruth Kelly. This month, after she’s been in the job for shortly over a year, we bid her farewell. We got on well with Ruth when we met her. She seemed a refreshingly open person in the strange world of politics.

Why ‘strange’? Well, I’ve just got back from the Labour Party conference as this Journal goes to press, and I have to say how disappointing it was to discover a gathering obsessed with personalities and individuals, rather than policies and political direction. Politics is far too serious to be treated like a beauty contest.

You see, I don’t think it matters terribly if the Prime Minister is male or female, black or white, Scottish or from Timbuktu. What concerns us far more is what that person would do if he or she became Prime Minister.

It’s not as if we’re inviting them round for dinner, is it?

We are employing them to do a job for us.

I don’t want a man with a nice speaking voice: I want someone who is going to be sympathetic and understanding to the elderly and infirm. I don’t want a chap with a nice haircut: I want someone who will promote the rail industry. I don’t care how white the PM's teeth are: I want him to tax the speculators and the rich rather than working people. It worries me that we trivialise politics by making it about gossip and rumour. Extremists like the BNP thrive on people who believe politics is pointless.

I have to say that the media plays a regrettable role in all this. When Ruth Kelly resigned, she pointed out that she was doing so because she had four small children and being a government minister meant she seldom saw them. In my book, that’s perfectly understandable. But the media, desperate for a spicy story, pretended not to believe her. They suggested she’s gone because she sided with Miliband and wanted to see Brown replaced. Such reporting is unfair and irresponsible – not to mention untrue.

Far more interesting, and far less commented upon, was Ruth’s conference speech which included a commitment for Labour to ‘develop options for a rolling programme of electrification of our railways’ and revealed that she’s asked Network Rail to consider the case for new lines – including high speed.

That is real news – and personally I’m sorry that Ruth Kelly won’t be there to see it through.

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