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Charles Bannerman: 'Affairs of nations are far too precious to entrust to politics and politicians'

By Charles Bannerman

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Charles is disillusioned by politicians north and south of the border.
Charles is disillusioned by politicians north and south of the border.

It’s hardly surprising that the current standard of government, both national and devolved, is the worst in living memory, writes columnist Charles Bannerman.

What our political system seems to do best is to filter out the vast majority of society’s most able, leaving behind a largely incompetent, self-serving residue with an alarming capacity for scandalous self-destruction. Frequent visits to the administrative abyss, such as now, are therefore hardly surprising.

The UK government has long been in the grip of a bunch of posh boys, multi-millionaires of ambiguous tax status, Old Etonians, clownish Bullingdon Clubbers and Jacob Rees-Moggs. The recent disastrous Prime Ministerial tenure of just 44 days was still long enough to trash the economy, with the party of government apparently in perpetual turmoil.

Read more: Charles Bannerman: 'Closing the educational attainment gap is not as easy as some may think'

Meanwhile, Scotland suffers widespread paralysis of devolved services. Our desperately sick NHS, dysfunctional ferry services (and don’t even mention the boats!), a struggling, misconceived police force, frighteningly high drugs deaths, failure to deliver adequate road networks and even messing up a basic census just give a flavour.

And Labour have been out of it for so long that we don’t really know what we’d get from a party which twice in less than five decades, under Michael Foot and Jeremy Corbyn, rendered itself unelectable.

Meanwhile, the Greens and LibDems further dilute the talent pool by grasping at opportunist coalitions.

So what keeps our finest minds and greatest talents out of government, leaving us with all this abject mediocrity and alarming delusions of adequacy?

Principally, the system excludes anyone, however gifted, who isn’t political and therefore doesn’t want to join a party, so will never reach a position to contribute. The chances of election as an independent are minimal and membership of UK political parties is less than 500,000, so that’s 99 per cent of the expertise lost at a stroke.

But even moving up the ranks of a political party is at least as dependent on ruthless skulduggery and abject sycophancy towards the leadership as on any merit. The inevitable upshot is a whole lot of crushingly underwhelming timeservers, placepersons and party hacks dumped on the Westminster and Holyrood benches.

Furthermore, much of any paltry residue of talent will be in opposition, leaving pitifully little for ministerial positions. The affairs of nations are far too precious to entrust to politics and politicians.

Charles Bannerman.
Charles Bannerman.

I’m never sure why a lot of these people stand for our parliaments in the first place. Westminster seems hugely endowed with part-time MPs who spend much of their time in other lucrative employments, on reality TV shows or contributing to that dreadful braying racket that bizarrely passes both for dissent and approval. Meanwhile in Scotland, devolved powers are run by a group of folk who are fundamentally in politics to campaign for independence, so our public services are really just a sideshow and well outwith the scope of their expertise. It’s rather like getting a plumber to fix your car.

Despite our large population the function of government, which should fall to the most able and committed, is being run by people of alarmingly limited talent drawn by questionable means from a tiny minority. Worse still, their top priorities are their parties, party dogmas and themselves. The needs of the people are well down that list, while effective government is way beyond their levels of competence.

And it shows.

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