It is almost a given in certain political circles, especially but not exclusively, eurosceptic ones that the problem with the political system of this country is the lack of conviction politicians. It was all so different in the good old days, many of them wail, without bothering to find out much about those days.
Setting aside the historical inaccuracy of a narrative that presupposes politicians were different at any time in the past en masse, let us ask ourselves whether we really want politicians of convictions.
I was mulling over the subject because of a discussion on another thread with a friend, whose only fault is that he is a member of the Conservative Party and rather approves of the Boy-King, on another thread. We ranged over a number of subjects and eventually arrived at Edward Heath on whom we largely agreed. Except that the word traitor cropped up.
Heath, I said reasonably as always, was not a traitor but a man of his time. The belief in the efficacy of larger units and uselessness of small ones was in the air for decades after the Second World War: larger counties, larger boroughs, larger police forces, larger schools and, of course, larger political states. I wrote about it all in my obituary on EURef, my erstwhile blogging home, and have only one thing to add: Edward Heath was most definitely a politician of conviction. His conviction, particularly as regards of Britain's need to enter the Common Market was so strong that he was prepared to do anything and tell any lie to achieve it. To be fair, politicians rarely consider telling lies a problem (and the electorate would be horrified if they did not) but in Heath's case it was done in order to achieve something he fervently believed in.
The much derided Ken Clarke, incidentally, has some convictions but as they consist of supporting the EU and the idea of Britain one day entering the eurozone (though even he must realize that it is a remote possibility) these are dismissed as being political buffonery. Sadly no: they are the expression of political conviction.
The wishful thinking that makes people sigh for politician of conviction without considering that those convictions might not be ones we want is akin to the one that assumes that the solution to our problems is "asking the people", possibly in a referendum, because the people are bound to give the answer we want. Well, no, the people might not give the answer we want and politicians of conviction might not have the convictions we approve of. Might it not be time to rethink that particular mantra?