A Timely Reminder

Few readers would not have heard or read about the expenses scandal rocking the UK Parliament.

The public have, quite rightly, been outraged by some of the claims made on expenses by MPs. Moat cleaning, helicopter landing pad hedge trimming, mortgage costs for non-existent mortgages, the list could go on and on.

It has been a major blow for the integrity of the Parliament and will no doubt result in some major changes to the political landscape and operation of the entitlements system.

It has also had a dramatic effect on the public standing of politicians. One recent poll suggested that over 40 per cent of voters will choose ‘none of the above’ at the next election. As voting is not compulsory it is unlikely to affect the result markedly but certainly voter turnout can be expected to drop.

As I was reading the latest commentary from the various internet sites, I came across a blog post by a British Labor MP.

What struck me about his post was the reference to the prayer said at the opening of the Parliament. Here in Australia we say the Lord’s Prayer but in England they use the ‘Prayers for Parliament’ from the Church of England.

Here is an extract from it: “May (MPs) never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals; but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind.”

It caught my eye, not just because of the worthy sentiments, but because it contains at least one counter-intuitive phrase cautioning politicians against the ‘desire to please’. After all, isn’t that what the modern political spin cycle is about – pleasing people so you will be popular?

That certainly seems to be the case in the media-driven popularity contest that has seen tens of billions of taxpayer dollars mailed out to individuals as part of an obsessive attempt to make people like you.

But the prayer has actually nailed the most important part of politics very well.

For as long as I can remember I have used a phrase along the lines of, “that which is popular is not always right and that which is right is not always popular.”

Sometimes it is hard to live by these convictions (particularly as a politician) but many of us aspire to do so. The recent events in England are a timely reminder of the consequences of not following that path.

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