Friday, May 18, 2012

Do we really want "politicians of conviction"?

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?


  1. We don't want politicians 'of conviction' - we just want those we elect to represent our views and to adhere to their manifestos. It's obviously too much to ask of them.

    1. "Our" views? But what on earth makes you think that your views are the views of everyone or even of the majority? That is no different from assuming that a politician's conviction will be the conviction you approve of.

  2. I think I still prefer politicians of conviction, as long as they are honest about their convictions before they stand for election.

    1. Me to. A real politician of conviction doesn't need to lie, as he/she is sure of where they stand. Whether we agree or not, we can understand their position. No one really knows where "slippery" stands on any one day, (as he now seems to be called).

      "but in Heath's case [telling lies] it was done in order to achieve something he fervently believed in."

      That person is just called a liar.

    2. As it happens, Heath made no bones about his fervent belief in Britain's future being in the EEC. Neither, as it happens, did Margaret Thatcher along with very many other politicians. And a good many of the electorate supported them.

  3. Surely if a potential MP demonstrates his conviction sufficiently convincingly then the electorate has a good idea of whether it is worth voting for him or not? Most of those who can vote have enough experience of assessing other people in their daily lives to determine whether they believe the, possibly, consumnate actor such as A Blair. Those who trot out the party line in their election literature should be ignored

  4. Heath's deceit and treason consisted of not openly admitting and advocating the forfeiture of sovereignty. He should have presented an Act abolishing the Privy Council Oath, Bill of Rights etc and stating clearly what his aims and those of the EU were. As we know from FCO documents of the time, HMG was in full possession of the facts. Then people could have told their MPs whether they wanted it - or have voted with full knowledge in the 1975 referendum. Under the law as it stood at the time, entering into negotiations for EEC membership was a joint criminal enterprise by the cabinet and accomplices against the constitution and sovereign. Unfortunately, only Crown officers can prosecute treason and the Attorney General was part of the conspiracy! Of course, as soon as Parliament passed the ECA 1972, the magic of "implied repeal" made everything all right retrospectively.

    Roy Hattersley semi-admitted this "Not only was it wrong for us to deal superficially with what Europe involved, but we've paid the price for it ever since, because every time there's a crisis in Europe, people say, with some justification, "Well we would not have been part of this if we'd really known the implications".

    A retrospective Act could bring the surviving and subsequent malefactors to book with the penalties obtaining at the time. They certainly deserve it.

  5. 40 years ago Heath had no idea what would happen in the future with the EU. I believe he largely thought he was entering a free trade zone. To call him treasonous seems a step harsh - stupid maybe but not literally a traitor.

    1. I have a bridge for sale that you might be interested in.

  6. farmland investment in Europe....

    Heath in his own words
    1970 There will be no blueprint for a federal Europe
    1971 There is no question of any erosion of essential national sovereignty

    There are some in this country who fear that in going into EUrope , we shall in some way sacrifice independence ond sovereignty. These fears, I need hardly say, are completely unjustified.

    1975 There is no danger of a single currency

    1991 (TV interview with Peter Sissons
    Sissons: The single currency, the United States of Europe: was that on your mind when you took Britain in?

    Heath: Of course, yes.

    The Foreign Office had advised him all about it in the 1971 document Ref FCO 30/1048 which fully admitted the intention of eventually rendering the people of member states powerless and recommended bogus regionalism/devolution as a distraction and pacifier from that brute fact. "there would be a major responsibility on HM Government and on all political parties not to exacerbate public concern by attributing unpopular policies to the remote and unmanageable workings of the Community".


  7. On Heath. He was actively treasonous. Henry VIII would have had him hung drawn and quartered.

    People with strong political convictions can be dangerous. They seem to find it easy to think the end justifies the means and some of them kill people.