Standing Down

“Politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.” So thought Charles de Gaulle, a man who took Gallic charm to new depths. But in this at least he was correct, and the problem we now face is that too many folk who have other talents are themselves giving up on politics and leaving it to the “professional” politicians, an oxymoron if ever there were one.

One such is our old friend Radosław Sikorski, who has announced that he will not stand in the general election on 25th October. He will be missed. Over the years, Sikorski has provided much inspiration, and I have at least one regular reader who feels that a piece without a reference to him has something lacking. But I digress.

A former defence minister, Sikorski had become one of Poland’s more capable foreign ministers, before becoming, on the change of prime minister last year, speaker of the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament, a position from which he resigned following the recent release of more sensitive documents relating to the affair of tape recordings of certain politicians, which first broke a year ago (please see Shattered Reputations). “I decided that I will not run in the upcoming parliamentary elections. I thank all the residents of Bydgoszcz for the fact that for I have had the honour to represent them for over a decade,” he tweeted yesterday.

Given the apparent shallowness of talent elsewhere in Polish public life, the loss of a politician of the calibre of Sikorski will certainly be felt, especially internationally where his ability to comment in perfect English enabled him effectively to transmit Poland’s message. It is no coincidence that as an Oxford graduate he had been taught to think, an ability all too conspicuous by its absence elsewhere, which enabled him to take a leading role and speak with authority on issues such as Ukraine, defence and the EU.

Whatever the motives for his standing down, we need seriously to consider why increasingly those with genuine talent are leaving politics – William Hague standing down at the this year’s general election in the UK being another good example of somebody in his prime. Increasingly politics is becoming dominated by the “professional” politician, somebody who knows no other life, has no other interests or talents, is otherwise unemployable and thus becomes not a servant of the electorate acting in the best interests of the country, but a servant of the system acting in the best interests of his “employer” which in his eyes is the state rather than the people.

A second problem is that politicians are now too young. Not only do they lack experience and judgment but politics – at the senior level – becomes a stepping stone to something else, all too often wealth of dubious provenance, of which many would consider Tony Blair a good example. In such cases, how many decisions are taken while in office were for the good of the country and how many are taken for the benefit of those who might promise a reward in the years ahead. We will never know – and that is the problem. When politicians were older and saw politics as a way of putting something back after a career elsewhere, we were all better off.

I suppose we have the politicians we deserve. If we are stupid enough, against all the evidence, to believe that our lives can be made better by accepting the shallow promises to bribe us with our own, or more usually our neighbour’s money, or we are apathetic and desert the political process, we have only ourselves to blame. And if we attack politicians with scurrilous attacks on their private lives and families, wholly irrelevant to their public duties we will deter the very folk we need and have in their place the very folk we should avoid.

I recently asked Radek Sikorski why it was that otherwise intelligent folk started, once they achieved office, to make decisions which seem consistently to defy common sense. Did they never meet normal folk? Surprisingly he agreed that that was one of the problems. The pressure is relentless: being guided from meeting to meeting to meeting, no leisure time, no time for one’s family, no hour left unfilled, very little time left to think. No wonder folk eventually give up. Be that as it may, no doubt Sikorski will pop up again in some more congenial role, and we wish him well.

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