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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 08/07/2011 | 1 Comment

I'm not that long back from a brilliant walking holiday in Piedmont, Northern Italy. I had always envisaged that I would write my first blog for a few weeks on this experience as I often thought, as I struggled in the heat or felt somewhat exhausted as I trudged up to a distant hill town that there were lessons here for modern life. However, a blog on this topic, or others I had been toying with, seem trivial and irrelevant now in the midst of the biggest storm to have engulfed politics for years.

As I have listened to much of the coverage one phrase has kept coming into my mind as it seems relevant to our whole political system, the operation of the police, and the Murdoch empire in all its forms – 'the fish rots from the head'.  This is the name of a book by Bob Garratt on the need for standards and ethics in company board rooms.  As so many psychological experiments have shown people's morality and actions are highly sensitive to context and expectations and it is the leaders of organisations who provide the context for their workforce. For example, it is senior people who not only set objectives but also evaluate and reward performance thus having a massive impact on employees' values and actions.

Of course, it is more complex than that. In the west, but particularly in the USA and the UK, in recent years a materialistic ideology has come to dominate in almost every sphere of life – swamping our more traditional value system and encouraging people to believe that all that matters is fame, power, looks and  money. In such a culture ends always justifies means – standards and morality are bound to be sacrificed to greed and personal advantage. The revelations of shameful standards and ethics for whole swathes of the press, police and politicians seem almost inevitable given the materialistic, power-and-money-at-all -costs, value system which has come to dominate in British life.

The papers are awash with articles and the airwaves filled with news, comment and analysis. In my view the best piece to date is in The Spectator. It is by Peter Oborne and entitled What the papers won't say.

A year or so ago I wrote a blog on how impressed I was by Oborne's book The Triumph of the Political Class. In it Oborne describes how the British political system had changed beyond all recognition in the past thirty years.  Basically he argues that we once had a system of parliamentary politics where parties and whips mattered and where there was some sense of standards in public life. In this old order party ideology and manifestos mattered. MPs usually had some kind of experience of the world before they entered politics whether that be trade unions, law, medicine or business.

Now we have a 'political class' – full-time politicians who have often gone straight from university into a political role as researchers or who come into politics after a role in the media.  In this new world parliament and the whips hardly matter as politicians from all parties try to get the support of the electorate. Rather than setting out strong manifestos with the vision of a good society, these new-style  politicians aim to appeal to the personal interest of the electorate as consumers.  In this new world, the media and its support, is everything.  This is why the world of the media and the world of politics has become so intertwined and why we have entered an era Oborne calls 'manipulative populism'.

Having read Oborne's book, where he sets out the dangers of the new political system we are now in – including the dominance of News International –  it is particularly gratifying to know that the cat is out of the bag; that we are now in the midst of a full-blown crisis where the Prime Minister and the entire political class has to grapple in full public view (via the investigations and public inquiries)  with the panoply of problems which their new style of politics and the prevailing values of modern times have created.  This is a boil which must be lanced and painful though the process will be it is the only thing which can help get us on a path to recovery.  

Comment By Comment
Janice L
Joined: 02/09/2011

Comment Posted: 02/09/2011 14:57
I love your metaphor. The recent crisis really does seem like a symptom of something sick in our society, which threatens our democracy itself. Yes, it will be a painful time for many, but, as you say, hopefully real healing will take place as a result.
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