Imogen – Year 12 Student
Editor’s note: This insightful essay written by talented student Imogen, now in Year 13, was shortlisted for the Political Studies Association Student Blog Competition 2020. Students from across the UK were invited to write 500-600 words on ‘Does the public expect too much of UK Politicians?’ Students were required to demonstrate excellent writing skills: presenting a well reasoned argument, individuality and where appropriate backing up their arguments with relevant data and research. This is Imogen’s third publication in The GSAL Journal; you can read her earlier contributions here. CPD
The question ‘Does the public expect too much of UK politicians?’ is an interesting one, and has become a frequent feature of political debate. Perhaps, a different slant is needed, that of whether it is actually possible for the public to expect too much of the people they elect to represent them.
In 1995, the Committee on Standards in Public life set out the seven principles which politicians should abide by, they were: selflessness, honesty, objectivity, integrity, accountability, openness and leadership. It is not really a tall order that politicians will do their utmost to abide by these standards. However, the public now expects that politicians will behave badly. In a YouGov Poll in 2019, 53% of respondents thought that Boris Johnson was dishonest. Children are constantly being reminded of the need to be honest, politicians should be capable of this too, and it is only right that the public should expect this; else, it would be impossible to ever hold them accountable, as the public would never know if they were telling the truth.
Furthermore, the public seems to expect that scandal will surround politicians. Would you be surprised if tomorrow the headlines talked of government ministers behaving dreadfully, refusing to take responsibility for the consequences arising from their actions, or throwing each other under the bus to further their own aims? In 2018 alone, Andrew Griffiths, a minister, sent 2,000 abusive text messages to constituents, Fiona Onasanya was convicted of perverting the course of justice, and Jeremy Hunt, another minister, breached anti-money laundering legislation. The latter did not even lose his job. Surely, the public should be able to expect politicians to abide by the law.
In addition, politicians often prove themselves incapable of cooperating with each other, even when they are all from the same party. Day to day politics have become something of a media circus, with both major parties constantly trying to score points. This a major cause of parliamentary gridlock, which frustrates the public. Members of the public from both sides of the Brexit argument eventually got frustrated with the fact that it took four years for anything to happen, mostly because the politicians would not work together. Cooperation is hardly too much for the public to expect of politicians.
The general public expects that politicians will not keep promises made on the campaign trail, despite evidence that most do at least attempt to carry out what they promised to do. Perhaps it is time for politicians to go back to a positive media campaign, rather than the policy of negative campaigning, which has become acceptable, and begin to highlight to the public the fact that they do usually try to do what they promised they would. It might even help alleviate gridlock, if politicians campaigned on the benefits they themselves could bring, instead of the problems with the opponent.
There is definitely an argument that the UK public expects too much in wanting the lives of politicians before they became politicians to be blemish free. All too often, the lives of politicians when they were children are put under the microscope when deciding if they are suitable representatives. This does not seem fair, as most adults did shameful or embarrassing things when they were children and would not be happy if these would be brought to life now.
Overall, I do not think that the public does expect too much of politicians. One must remember that the primary function of a politician is to represent the people who elected them, and that should surely include behaving in a way the public views as acceptable.