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We need an elite, starting with Parliament

Posted by Richard D North in Interrogating the Media / Politics / Society / Truth & Trust on 9 May 2009

Why we posted this: People have forgotten how badly they need to be governed by an elite. The exposure of MP’s allowances in the Daily Telegraph shows just how far we have gone in misunderstanding the problem of public service. The paper of the professions has descended into tabloid destructiveness.  

The original story:
“Making Allowances”
Leader Comment
The Times
9 May 2009

Summary of the story:
The Times‘s leader writer ran the gamut of argument on the problem of finding the right people to go into politics, especially how to reward them properly.

livingissues comment:
The nation has been indulging in an orgy of dislike of Members of Parliament and their allowances. Interestingly, The Telegraph is not universally admired for its expose. It was seen in some quarters as a witch hunt which risked taking our eye of the real issues. As The Times remarks, the upshot is probably that the MPs’ “take” is quite small and not very corrupting.

MPs will have to rethink how they pay themselves.

Actually, though, the public has more rethinking to do than the politicians. We have been so busy wanting everybody in authority to be responsive to the point of submissiveness that we haven’t noticed that we want to be informed and led by an elite.

We won’t be led by serious and worthwhile people until we signal that we admire public service. (Nick Stacey told A N Wilson (FT, 9/10 May 2009) how badly we were lacking this sense.) Of course, public servants have to be well-rewarded. But they’ll need respect too.

The failing is partly in the leadership cadres. For all the humbug and arrogance that has always littered the elite – the professional classes – there was also a more widespread understanding of the idea of vocation. Helena Kennedy made something like that point on BBC2′s Newsnight (11 May 2009).

We need to build a new sense of professionalism and the vocational pleasures it can bring.

So it’s a reciprocal matter. The led need to understand their obligation to their leaders and the leaders need to have quite a strong sense of their duty.

This sort of ethos was once quite openly discussed and taught. It wasn’t the preserve of the public school, though public schools certainly took it very seriousy and still do (as the headmistress of Roedean reminded the FT (9 May 2009). Actually, it ran right through society as a value and was taught at every point. It was, for instance, accepted that adults had a leadership role, and it didn’t really matter how poor or uneducated they were.

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