• Is All Fair in Love and War – and Politics?

    Many people will agree with the old saying that “all’s fair in love and war”. Others, however, would be inclined to add “and politics” – a view that certainly seems to be taken by some politicians.

    I have never accepted the notion that the ordinary principles of decent behaviour should for some reason be suspended when it comes to politics. Someone who lies and cheats in politics is no less a liar and a cheat. Indeed, such behaviour in politics is arguably an even greater offence than it would be elsewhere, since it is brazenly committed by those who owe a duty of trustworthiness to the public, and its significance is likely to have much wider connotations.

    There is, nevertheless, no shortage of politicians ready to defy the normal conventions and to behave irresponsibly and dishonestly for the sake of personal or political advantage. The latest recruit – and on a massive scale – to these disreputable ranks is the US Republican presidential hopeful, Donald Trump.

    Mr Trump is a colourful character, and nothing wrong with that – though one might have thought that his deliberate cultivation of an image more appropriate to a fairground might have been a disadvantage.

    But where he has distinguished himself – if that is the right phrase – is in his readiness to make snap judgments in the most extreme terms on issues that surely require more careful consideration.

    Donald Trump seems to have calculated that the only thing that matters is that he should stay in the headlines. He may insult women and virtually every kind of foreigner; he may propose outlandish “solutions” to complex problems, such as building a wall across the whole US-Mexico border to keep out Mexican “rapist and murderers” or banning entry to the US of anyone who could be described as or claiming to be “Muslim”; but his concern is not to make sense but to make news.

    This leaves us with a dilemma. Is he to be taken seriously, or is he just a buffoon? The opinion polls suggest, for the time being at least, that he needs to be taken seriously. But that raises a different question. Does he do and say outrageous things in order to capture the headlines – is he, in other words, just a demagogue prepared to say anything – or, even more worryingly, does he really believe what he says?

    It is a measure of how self-absorbed a large chunk of the American public is, and of how little they are aware of the world beyond their borders, that they seem completely unaware of the dire picture painted of their public life by the possibility that a Donald Trump could be elected to the Presidency. The rest of the world can only look on in disbelief at the prospect of the free world being led by such an apparently irresponsible loose cannon.

    Before we become too self-righteous, however, we should acknowledge that our own public life is not immune from political leaders prepared to act – even if on a substantially smaller stage than Donald Trump’s – in a way that falls short of the standards we might reasonably expect. We might, sadly, not be overly surprised that this is the case – but what is perhaps surprising, and certainly disappointing, is that when such a lapse is brought to the attention of the public, and even more so of the media, the consequences for the wrongdoer are minimal.

    This certainly seems to have been the case with the return to Cabinet of Judith Collins. The response has been, in general, a tolerably warm welcome for the return of someone seen as a repentant sinner. The “political comeback of the year” has been portrayed as a matter for congratulation. Her supposedly admirable qualities as a politician – exemplified by her cultivation of the sobriquet “Crusher” – have been celebrated. There is even renewed talk of the possibilities of her ascending to even higher office.

    This is surprising, not just because of Judith Collins’ manifest errors of judgment and policy as a Minister (just think of Serco’s contract to run Mt Eden prison), but also because we know quite a lot about her approach to politics. Most people will not have read Dirty Politics but the journalists certainly will have done. We don’t need to rely on hearsay or reportage to judge Judith Collins, because we can turn (for good or ill) to the words she herself actually used in e-mail correspondence with Cameron Slater and others.

    No one reading that correspondence can be in any doubt about the distorted view of politics, and political life, held by the returning Cabinet Minister. A political career is, according to this view, not a matter of principle and service, but of bitter and vindictive in-fighting, requiring dirty tricks, ambushes and plotting, all expressed in the language of the gutter.

    Before we cast stones at other people’s glasshouses, should we not expect those who report on our own public life to provide us with the whole picture?

    Bryan Gould

    11 December 2015

1 Comment

  1. Brian says: December 12, 2015 at 3:57 amReply

    Through Trump’s unintentional self parody, he exposes America’s criminally insane political class. The Americans seem hell bent on bringing biblical end times to the world at the behest of the of the Zionist who happen to be the first fascist movement.
    As for Judith Crusher Collin’s,failure and corruption, are the now the hallmarks for political advancement.