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Conservatives on the Couch: Ten Reasons Not to Go into Politics

Brian_jenner_1 Brian Jenner runs a blog on the subject of speechwriting.

Nietzsche said, "Insanity in individuals is something rare — but in groups, parties, nations, and epochs it is the rule." As usual he was on to something. Why, in recent British history, have political parties lost the plot to such a degree after electoral defeat that it takes them nearly a decade to marshal collective wisdom and get the show back on the road?

Maybe parties need some collective psychotherapy. Lefties love their counselling, Tories don’t think they need it. Examining your own personal weaknesses and vulnerabilities is very un-Conservative. Isn’t it about time that changed? Do you want to pursue a career in politics? Examine your motivations. Here are some reasons why it might not be a good idea.

1) Because My Relationship Isn’t Working Out

C Northcote Parkinson said, "Men enter local politics solely as a result of being unhappily married." He could have added women, gays and people with no relationship at all do it for similar reasons. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just be aware of it as a phenomenon.

2) As A Source Of Income

If you have an income and you want to diversify your activities, that’s fine. But if politics is likely to be your only source of income, what’s to stop you becoming a complete sycophant? Holding political office is likely to diminish your employability, not enhance it.

3) To Please My Mum

Thomas Szasz says, "As a parent, perhaps the most important message you must convey to your daughter or son is: ‘Listen to your inner voice and trust it. Listen to and learn from others but never let them undermine your confidence in your own judgement".It’s far more important to consult with your partner before embarking on a political career.

4) To Save The Nation/The World

Misunderstood by your peers? Are you a prophet in the wilderness? Do you love quoting that story when Winston was going to the Palace – "My whole life has prepared me for this moment…". Tony Blair has got this problem. Politics is a job. After five years in public office, people get sick of you and you lose sight of the reasons why you were elected in the first place. You are replaceable and you are fallible. Keep that in mind and you will always be sane and worthy of respect.

5) To Change The World

This is subtly different to the ‘save’ the world syndrome. You can change the world in infinitesimal ways. To believe you can become a transformational character is dangerous. There are many ways to be influential in politics without being an MP or a local councillor. If you are angry, if your utterances peppered with ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’, if you have apocalyptic fears – beware – you’re the one falling to bits – the world is getting along just fine.

6) Public Service…Duty

This is the favourite of public schoolboys, Oxbridge types and people who write for the Daily Telegraph. It’s often utter humbug, masking romantic megalomania or snobbery. Politics is a well-paid job with status. Being paid a fortune in the private sector doesn’t provide half the ego delights. If you’re successful, carry on being successful – creating jobs and paying your taxes is a great way to serve society. You don’t need to step into the quagmire that is public office.

7) Because I Am A Fraudster/Fantasist/Criminal

Why are dishonest people attracted to politics? Can election wipe away the stain? Or does it provide the rollercoaster of excitement as you risk being found out? The healthy way to deal with this problem is to be open about your fraud/fantasy/crime before you stand for office.

8) Because It Will Raise The Profile Of My Business

This motivation is sure to create conflicts of interest. In politics you have to do a load of boring, token things that reassure people and achieve nothing. Why bother?

9) Because I’ve Got A Burning Single Issue

Let’s say you are passionately opposed to the welfare state and find yourself fulminating and intellectualizing about it to anyone who will listen. That’s fine. But if you don’t have a job and enjoy a fine lifestyle thanks to a rich partner, maybe it’s not society. Maybe it’s you. Your ‘single issue’ is just a manifestation of your own self-disgust.

10) To Solve People’s Problems

Tony Banks said, "I went into politics to solve problems, but then you realise after 22 years that you can't bloody solve them". New solutions breed new problems. Mrs Thatcher’s decisive interventions seemed like a good idea at the time, but in retrospect, maybe the changes would have happened anyway. It’s unhelpful to look up to ‘saviour’ figures.

There is hope. In the Psychology of Military Intelligence, Norman Dixon lists the characteristics of outstanding individuals who are motivated towards professional excellence. One trait is, "A greater readiness to volunteer for psychological experiments". Another is: "Greater activity in the institution or community of which they are a member". It’s a sign of psychological health and intelligence.


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