Jake O'Kane: Time's up for our 'rotten' politicians
When you compound the political difficulties across the water with our local problems, it's no wonder politicians are held in such low esteem. Just how low is hard to express without resorting to coarse language
“SOMETHING is rotten in the state of Denmark” has become one of Shakespeare’s most recognisable quotes and has been used for centuries to describe a nation suffering political problems due to any number of reasons.
Today, it has never been more relevant due to the current political impasse both in our Assembly and in the British Parliament.
I have no intention of attempting to unpick Brexit – there are much sharper political minds writing for this paper to do that. I speak as the ordinary man in the street who, whilst not au fait with all the intricacies of the Brexit negotiations, can recognise a disaster when he sees one.
Like many of you – and the majority in the north – I voted to ‘remain’. I never for a second bought into the fear around immigration and definitely never believed that hundreds of millions of pounds would be given to the National Health Service if we left.
My inherent cynicism for all things political served me well, as I’ve been proved right.
In the two years since the vote, we’ve learnt that the millions promised to the NHS aren’t coming and restrictions around immigration will cripple much of our agrifood industry which relies on EU workers.
In short, we were deceived and manipulated.
But what’s even more galling than the lies told around Brexit are the politicians who made unsubstantiated claims. I cannot remember a time when there’s been so many idiots in suits walking the corridors of Westminster – and that’s saying something.
I blame the English public school system which has burdened us with buffoons such as Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees Mogg, or as I call them, the Laurel and Hardy of British politics.
Every time I see them I expect Johnson to twirl his tie in exasperation and say to Mogg, “Well, this is another fine mess you’ve got us into”.
When you compound the political difficulties across the water with our local problems, it’s no wonder politicians are held in such low esteem. Just how low is hard to express without resorting to coarse language: I recently heard a sweet-looking old lady let out a mouthful of expletives which made me blush when the topic of her local MLA came up.
There was a time when a veneer of proficiency and professionalism could be attributed to those who entered politics. They were invariably male, wore grey suits with white shirts and sensible ties and hid any personality behind a serious countenance.
Conversely, politics today has become home for those who shout loudest, blame most and avoid personal responsibility for decisions taken.
The individual who best embodies all that is ‘rotten in Denmark’ is Ian Paisley. Having just completed a 30-day ban from the Commons for not declaring a luxury family holiday to Sri Lanka and then enduring the ignominy of being the first MP to face a recall vote, he is once again under investigation – this time for yet another luxury family holiday to the Maldives.
Paisley’s only qualification for public office came via the gift of his north Antrim seat from his late father. Like all children who inherit their position, he exhibits an arrogance and sense of entitlement that those of us who’ve had to work for our place in society find hard to stomach.
Paisley proves politics is too important to be left to politicians. It’s time for a paradigm shift in the way we choose those who rule over us.
There should be no place for dynastic politics in any healthy democracy; if Mr Paisley wants to stand, he should earn his position honestly by fighting for a seat other than his late father’s.
Likewise, open up the selection process beyond the usual tried-and-failed political parties. We need new blood and that means independents. Limit those who are elected to two terms, freeing politicians to make decision on merit without worrying about re-election. Return politics to its roots, when it was a practical form of public service rather than a lifetime career choice.
Imagine, a legislature filled with retirees, carpenters, builders, teachers, doctors and the unemployed. In short, ‘a government of the people, by the people, for the people’.
I know it’s a corny idea, but if enough ‘ordinary’ people began standing in elections, maybe we, the embarrassed majority, would have a reason to return to the ballot box.