Updated: May 19
An iron fist in a velvet glove, not a wet hand in a a rusty gauntlet.
In many aspects, running a government is like running a business. Let us suppose for the point of this article that a bad business will become insolvent, whereas a bad government will be voted out. Unfortunately, it is not quite this simple though. A bad government can maintain it’s power over a long time, either the term of its election or across multiple terms. Let us then refine this statement: A bad business will become insolvent and a successful government will retain its power.
Success in business
I work as a professional and have two professional parents. All of us work in different fields. I have been fortunate enough to encounter many types of professionals and politicians in my life so far. I have seen the breadth of types of professionals and businessmen, from the successful directors of multi-million-dollar corporations to the rurally based sole-trader without staff. Some of them are successful at business and reasonable at their jobs, others are middling in their business and pride themselves in providing the highest quality of service.
All the professionals I met aim to have a successful business. The difference between them is this: some believe that a successful business only comes from aiming to be successful at business (the Businessman), whereas the others believe that they will only truly be successful in business if they are a competent professional (the Professional). To explain this better, it is necessary to define what a professional is. A professional is a person who performs a particular skill or task which can only be carried out with a specific set of skills or expertise, and who is regulated by a body or organisation.
The Businessman ranks his duty to carry out the profession in a lower order than getting the highest profits. To be clear, this article is not criticising the Businessman. The apprentice/fledgling professional will encounter the problem early on in his career that he lacks the requisite skill to carry out his work to the highest standards. Paradoxically, he will never become skilled enough to carry out the work without taking on work which he isn’t quite sure how to do. If he ranks his professionalism well above his profits, he will end up living on the street.
The Professional, conversely, holds up his professional standards on a pedestal. He knows not only when to act for the client but also when not to act. This is the doctor who sees his patient, diagnoses the disease, realises that the only treatment available to the patient would fix the particular issue at hand but would likely create five more of equal or worse pathology to the patient. The doctor advises the patient to do nothing, provides a well rounded and understandable explanation to the client, sends them out the door and makes a small loss for the significant time it took to see them.
Success in government
Cast you mind back to a government thirty or fifty years ago. Likely you are wearing your rose-tinted glasses (so am I). This government was probably in power for several terms, and possessed one particular tenet that is still referred to (or rested upon by their successors) today. The environment of a politician and their government today is not the same as the one it would have been back in the sentimentally pined past, so what worked then will not necessarily work today. One of the main differences is pace. That is the pace of the reactions that occur with respect to the actions or omissions of the politicians. The flow of information from source to source which inevitably creates a much more volatile environment for anyone (and particularly politicians) to survive. Keeping this in mind, consider the Businessman and the Professional as politicians.
The Businessman considers that his success in the political game is defined by his ability to gain power within his party, and for the party itself to gain and retain power. The Businessman considers that the best way to go about gaining this power is the approval in the polls and the ability to obtain gains in this respect on a minute scale. He will consult with lobbyists and his staffers on a daily basis to consider what action will be unpopular, how to deliver bad news with a smile, and how to climb the inter-party-hierarchy in the most efficient manner. Again, this is not to criticise the Businessman politician. Our political parties are filled with Businessman, and our communities are filled with Professionals who have tried their hand at politics and have gotten an infinitesimal chunk of the vote. Perhaps to get into politics requires one to sacrifice a part of their moral compass?
The Professional on the other hand considers that he has been elected one way or another by his constituency and he will now spend the remainder of his term doing what he perceives is the right thing to do in the interest of those who have placed their faith in him. At the end of the term, if he has done right by his community, he trusts that he will be re-elected. It seems to me that the Professional is the rarer part of government, or at least the quieter part.
Success to the Businessman means the gaining and holding of the power. Success to the Professional means improving the position of the constituency and the power attributed to this success will necessarily come to him as a result.
The oldest professional I worked under commenced his profession in the late sixties. The changes he had seen since he started were remarkable. The typewriter was a necessity, the pound had recently been changed to the dollar, dictation was done via analogue recording. When I worked under him the average office had already turned to paperless, and one virtually only required a computer to work. The changes would have been so great that I marvel to consider what the future will hold for me if I am lucky enough to last as long in the game as he had.
I recall his review of an initial letter of advice I had drafted to an elderly client. He had tore through this (originally) four page letter of advice with a red pen, removed almost all esoteric terms and proposed a one page letter and in no uncertain terms reminded me what my job was. My job wasn’t to tell the law to the client, it was to explain the law. He further added that it wasn’t my job to inform the client of every potential risk to them, it was to know what the likely risks are and explain what they are and how to avoid them. The fees charged at this firm were about half of the going rate, and mine in particular (given I was junior) were reduced by another fifty percent. This was a Professional. When a client came to see him, he knew what to do and what not to do.
The words reactionary or populist are thrown around far too often in political discourse that they run the risk of becoming platitudes. Politicians are inherently populist and reactionary, they would not be voted in if they weren’t interested in their popularity or if they didn’t react to the situations in from of them. The problem should be better defined in the rationality and proportion of their reaction, and the level of their interest in their popularity. The criticism should not be as to a reaction occurring, but of the quality of the reaction its self. Likewise, criticism shouldn’t be drawn of a politician being concerned about their polling but on their actions in response to the polling or even perhaps how often they refer to it.
Hopefully not in hypocrisy to the previous paragraph, I would like to offer criticism and solution to what I consider to be the poor reaction to, and according overconsumption of, polling by politicians in the previous two years. Fast paced political climates are the enemy, the kryptonite of the Professional politician. By locking down vast swathes of populations and requiring people to work from home, the pace of the political climate has been given a shot of liquid ecstasy straight to the heart. When a large proportion of voters are sat in front of their computer with the distractions of digital media at their finger-tips they have nothing better to do than marinade themselves in daily updates from trusted and untrusted politicians.
As I have stated in other articles, the rapidity of changes in laws with respect to lock-downs have been so great that I posit that it is very unlikely that anybody has been able to fully keep abreast of the changes. The volatile nature of the legal system over the past two years has perpetuated an already fast-paced political climate that can only benefit a dominantly lurid Businessman. The solution seems so obvious it goes without saying, however, it is do less. I have lost count the number of recent times I have seen a politician holding off on ordering another lockdown, or refusing to restrain the public’s liberty, then being subject to a morass of criticism for failing to act and to eventually capitulate therefor being subject to the criticism of both sides of the argument for failing to act early enough and ordering another lockdown. The better course of action here is to make a decision, stick with it, and wait until the end of the term to see if the public agrees.