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Sunday, November 14, 2010


while watching the bbc’s, excellent, coverage of the remembrance day services i was struck by a thought.

in many ways the massed ranks of the ex-servicemen and women marching past the cenotaph were living examples of david cameron’s ‘big society’.

on the radio a serving officer remarked that remembrance day remained necessary not just because we should remember those who had given their lives for their country or ideals, but it also serves as a warning to our leaders: war has a cost and they should think very carefully before asking others to pay the costs.

the asking others is the crucial part. do you remember when michael moore was questioning whether elected politicians or political pundits were prepared to see their children enlist to fight the iraq war? his point was that voting for and defending a war where you had no personal ties to it was easy. the same could be said of our political leaders.

i am not suggesting, ala robert heinlein, that if you have not served in the military then you are not able to be a ‘citizen’ and so can’t vote or run for politics.

however there is some merit in the idea. it also has wider implications, while tying into cameron’s ‘big society’.

one of the many criticisms that are thrown at politicians is that they are out of touch with reality. one of the reasons for that for many of our politicians are career politicians having worked for the party or a think tank before becoming a member of parliament. it is true that having a vocation is a wonderful thing, there is also a case where it means your view of life is very narrow.

i don’t want my elected leaders to be just like me, but i want to know that they have had similar experiences to me. i want to know that they have rubbed shoulders with the rank and file and not have them thinking that just because they don’t wear a tie with their shirt and jacket that they are somehow like us.

this isn’t just about those with a very privileged upbringing pretending to know how hard the rest of us have it, this is about all politicians.

my proposal is a simple one: if you want to become an elected official then you should have done some sort of service before you entered politics. no think tanks, no consultancies, no working for the party. a real job and preferably one where you are giving back to society: teacher, nurse, doctor, police service, fire service, magistrate, ambulance driver, social worker … well you get the picture.

i want to know that those who legislate on our behalf have more than a passing idea of the experience of the rest of us. i want to know that they have spent time with people who are not political wonks or media mavens. i want to know that they have been half way decent in a career outside of politics.

power will always rest in the hands of a few. when it comes to what rupert murdoch wants and what we want the chances are we will lose out, however the balance might swing a little our way if our elected representatives had spent several years being a little more like us.

abraham lincoln spoke of government of the people, by the people, for the people as politics has become a career for many we have moved away from that simple formulation, perhaps david cameron’s talk of ‘the big society’ is the start of bringing it back.

true it would be an unexpected consequence of the idea, as i don’t expect to see cameron, clegg or miliband giving up their weekends to work the local soup kitchens (though lord knows there is soon going to be a need for them). perhaps the one thing we will be thanking david cameron for is that we will all begin to hold our politicians to account, we will want to know how and why they vote, what they are doing in their local communities and why they are not communicating with the electors.

perhaps by holding our members of parliament up to scrutiny, reminding them that they are there for us and not for them we can honour the sacrifice of the glorious dead.

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