How we judge politicians

By Virginia Moffatt
September 21, 2015

As many of us feared, Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader has resulted in an onslaught of negative stories in the press, with even the liberal Guardian joining in.

Whilst many of the stories are easily debunked (no, he didn’t join the Privy Council to get money for Labour) or simply ridiculous (he appears to have an unpleasant ancestor), their purpose is clear. Corbyn is still a relatively unknown politician. If the media can assassinate his character now, his political project will be doomed before it even has a chance to really get going.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, David Cameron, too, was at the centre of a flurry of unpleasant stories. These have been leaked from the forthcoming unauthorised biography of the Prime Minister by the Conservative Peer Lord Ashcroft and the Sunday Times political editor Isabel Oakeshott.

Ashcroft has publicly fallen out with Cameron, whilst Oakeshott is notorious for uncovering the story that led to the downfall of the former Liberal Democrat Minister, Chris Huhne and his wife Vicky Pryce.

Their book was delayed to avoid the election, but the timing of its publication on 12 October appears to be deliberate as it will allow a constant drip of sordid details in the run up to the Conservative Party Conference. All of which suggests that a disgruntled donor and an ambitious journalist have combined forces to try and oust the Prime Minister from office.

Given the appalling treatment by Corbyn at the hands of the British press, it is tempting to join in the glee on social media at David Cameron’s humiliation. But, I think we should resist it. Much as I dislike the Prime Minister, I want to judge him by his actions in office, rather than his alleged behaviour as a privileged, drunken student. And just as we decry the media for resorting to tittle-tattle to discredit Corbyn, we should decry Ashcroft and Oakeshott for doing the same to the Prime Minister.

When political discourse is dominated by smear and innuendo, it does more than demean all the participants, it prevents us from having a proper debate. And we urgently need a proper debate. We need to ask whether the Conservative obsession with deficit reduction is really the best way to handle the economy. And if so, is austerity the right solution to deficit reduction?

We need to be challenging the Prime Minister on the policies of the last five years that have had a disproportionate impact on sick and disabled people. We need to confront him on his broken promise that child tax credits wouldn’t be affected by welfare cuts and question whether privatisation is the solution to every problem.

It isn't Cameron's past exploits that should be bothering us, but the devastation his austerity policies are causing us now. We shouldn't revel in his mortification at his past, private behaviour, but instead be calling him to account for his present, public actions.

In the end, we should judge our politicians on their political acts, not on the basis of unpleasant gossip. If we do that, we might just get the political discourse, and the politicians we deserve.

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© Virginia Moffatt is the Chief Operating Officer of Ekklesia.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.