May 2006 - Only involvement will end apathy

01 June 2013

I used to worry that government ministers seem to have different interests than the rest of us. Then I began meeting them – and that’s when I became really disturbed.

I say this although I don't think it's helpful to be over-cynical about politicians. They are an easy target and often deserve to be criticised. But as soon as we distrust them completely, we are led down the road of apathy and the protest vote: which is exactly where the BNP and its supporters thrive. I believe most of the misguided souls who put their cross next to this vicious party in the local elections did so, not because they are fascists or racists, but because they feel powerless and ignored.

At the same time, politicians can't complain about cynicism as if it was nothing to do with them. It is. They need to make real efforts to relate to, and learn from, working people, rather than lecture them. People get used to having a ministerial car and a posse of underlings. The get used to people hanging onto their every word: and they come to believe that they deserve respect by right. No one does: we all have to earn respect: and in a democracy we have to earn it every day.

The key is for politicians to remember who elected them, the people who gave them their opportunity - and that is the working people of this country.

If only ministers had asked themselves, 'What would the people who voted for me think about slipping honours to businessmen who offer the party loans? What would my constituents make of my saying it is cheaper to sack a French worker than a British one? What would patients waiting in my local hospital think if I claimed this was the best year the NHS has ever had?'

It all comes down to a little humility and a recognition that ministers are in their position because of the Labour Party and the ordinary voter. These are the people to impress, to work for and to whom they should be grateful. Sometimes politicians could even admit they had been wrong.

We're not looking for supermen and women in government. We don't want them to pretend they know all the answers to all the questions. All we want is honesty and integrity. That is the solution to stopping cynicism in politics - and in the long term it is the solution to putting an end to the BNP and the extreme right.

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