He contrasts the standard ‘politician’ style of political representation – “slimy, scheming, backstabbers who will try and leave everyone with the short-term illusion that they are agreed with, and a longer-term sense of personal betrayal” – with another style, and he wonders whether it could work:
Do we want to be represented by people who are more prepared to show their working? More prepared to place themselves open to consultation, put stuff on the record, explain themselves, and be prepared to defend their decisions?
The question, as he says, boils down to that of whether representatives (and candidates) can be incentivised to act in this more discursive, nuanced way rather than in the standard populist manoeuvring way: can they win elections like this?
I suspect there’s a version of Gresham’s law in operation, by which bad politics drives out good. If you try to explain a complex and contentious position and how you reached it, you’re going to have a hard time up against someone who’s happy to hit you hard and fast with some punchy soundbites and pander to people’s prejudices.
Some discursive types do get elected, and most MPs I think do show some of those nobler qualities at least some of the time. But overall, our current political set-up has a strong tendency towards simplistic populism.
Another point: Paulie pitches his discussion at the level of the individual representative – but how many voters really know much about their MP or other candidates? The main factor in most voting decisions is party affiliation. And most of these voters’ changes in voting behaviour are largely driven by the activities of the party leaderships (as portrayed in the mass media). So either electoral politics – although not necessarily government itself – would have to become more decentralised, with local candidates and representatives having higher profiles and more independence from the party machine (fewer MPs with larger constituencies?), or the party leaderships would need to become more discursive etc. And the media would have to be on side. It seems unlikely.
The only other thing I can think of is some sort of ‘naming and shaming’ for those politicians who are particularly awful in terms of playing the standard political game, but I don’t know how that could be effective in practice. I don’t know how it could compete in terms of public attention with converse exercises that ridiculed the ‘gaffes’ that inevitably accompany thinking out loud.
Or am I underestimating the public’s tolerance of politicians who are “prepared to show their working”? I fear that while people might honestly say they’d like this, they’d probably not go for it when they saw it up against the status quo.