GIVEN the Prime Minister we have, and the events of the last decade, it’s completely understandable that trust in politicians is at an all-time low.
The UK’s current leadership has given us very little reason to trust, or even to believe them. And it has been frightening to observe that, even in a pandemic, people in positions of power and authority were not prioritising the common good, but their own selfish interests. Politicians who behave in such a way must be held to account, and ideally be removed from power as soon as possible.
We must, however, guard against the corrosive conclusion that ‘they’re all the same’, that every politician is simply in it for their own ends. This belief turns people away from politics and undermines democracy. So for the sake of democracy, it’s important we acknowledge the fact that not all politicians are the same, that we recognise the good ones, and celebrate and support them.
To people in the rest of the UK, the First Minister of Wales is not a very high-profile figure, and they may not know much about him. But even people who don’t share his politics would probably concede that Mark Drakeford is a decent man who takes his responsibilities seriously.
Whilst truth and transparency may have been in extremely short supply in Westminster, Mr Drakeford allowed television cameras to follow him through several months of the pandemic, for a documentary aired on S4C in March this year. When asked why he allowed this degree of intrusion, he said, “We live in such an unusual time, I think it’s worth having some sort of record of what’s going on within Government. There’s nothing to hide, so the camera can see whatever the camera wants to see.” The contrast with the smoke and mirrors of Westminster could hardly be more stark.
After several months of filming, the only thing the cameras captured that caused a stir was Mr. Drakeford lamenting, after a COBRA conference call with the Prime Minister: “Dear me, he really, really is awful.” Asked later whether he should apologise for that remark, he replied: “The reason I said it is because he was awful in that meeting. He couldn’t remember people’s names. He seemed fairly loosely attached to the agenda. And you got to the end of the meeting and thought, this was not the opportunity it ought to have been.” Mr Drakeford reported feeling “a sense of despair”.
Mr Drakeford’s commitment to doing everything in his power to keep people safe in the pandemic was evident in both his public and his personal behaviour. Whilst Boris Johnson lavishly refurbished the Downing Street flat with large sums of money from rich donors, breaking the rules on political donations, Mr Drakeford lived in a small hut in his garden, to protect his clinically vulnerable wife and mother-in-law. Throughout this period he gave press briefings looking composed, smart and focused, whilst Mr Johnson appeared shambolic and dishevelled.
And whilst Mr. Johnson and his colleagues employ the divisive demagoguery of ‘culture wars’, Mr. Drakeford pursued cross-party co-operation and reached an agreement with Plaid Cymru to explore progressive policies for Wales, including free school meals for all primary pupils, and a publicly-owned energy company.
Just as there can be good and serious politicians, so there can be good governments which improve the lives of all their citizens. Think of Britain’s post-war government which transformed life for millions by establishing the NHS, building council houses, and so much more. As we face the global challenges of climate change and rampant inequality, only governments really have the power and capacity to make the radical changes we need if life on earth is to be sustainable and decent. Honest progressive governments are essential, to combat the power of predatory and destructive Capital so, much as we would like to, we cannot afford to look at the current unedifying mess in Number 10 and decide to simply disengage.
We may despair and lose interest in politics, but politics will never lose interest in us, it will never stop shaping our lives, our futures and our planet. As Alice Walker said: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” So we urgently need to take back control from the greedy and dishonest, and put power back into the hands of better politicians. They do exist, and it’s our role as citizens to find them and promote them.
And just a note of caution. When politicians emerge who do offer the radical change we need, they will inevitably threaten very powerful vested interests, and those vested interests will use all that power to stop them. If people employed by Rupert Murdoch and Viscount Rothermere are united in telling you that a politician is bad or dangerous – ask why they might be doing that. They may not have your best interests, or the best interests of the planet, at heart.
© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. Her latest book is Illness, Disability and Caring: A Bible study for individuals and groups (DLT, 2020). Her latest articles can be found here. Past columns (up to 2020) are archived here. You can follow Bernadette on Twitter: @BernaMeaden