Those of us who work in the public affairs industry have a strange, contradictory attitude towards politicians. On the one hand, we work with a them every day – men and women from a huge range of different assemblies, parliaments, committees and groupings, in many different countries, with many different political views. Familiarity inevitably breeds cynicism at the very least; even contempt on occasions.
And yet, most of us in this industry have either worked for an elected representative at some point, or are friends with an elected representative – some of us are elected representatives ourselves. More than most, we in public affairs know what it is that politicians do.
Mostly we don’t stop to think about it. We all have our own priorities, the things that we want an MP, or an MEP, or an MSP to do for us, if we can get the messaging right and ensure that the client makes the case properly. What these men and woman do after the half hour meeting we’ve had with them is of interest only when making small talk as we’re being ushered out.
Well yesterday made me stop and think about it. I suddenly remembered the emails that the MP I worked for would get. The phone calls he would receive. The hours he would spend tramping the streets of his constituency. None of it would be focusing on the Big Issues – war and peace, boom or bust, public or private. No, this was all about chivvying the council to move a bollard so that a man in a mobility scooter could get to the shops. Helping out a distraught couple because of a barely-understandable housing benefit issue. Making a speech to open a school fete on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
All of our elected representatives are of course motivated by many different things, preferment, power and ambition among them. So what, so am I. The difference is, I don’t spend my evenings writing emails to the local council about the state of the playground they’re meant to maintain. I don’t spend my Saturday morning patiently listening to stories about the real-life results of official incompetence. Nor do I spend weekends in a local High Street actively encouraging strangers to come and talk to me about anything they want, despite the knowledge that the majority of men and women passing think that I am a grasping crook.
Every time I get cynical about the people I work with I remember listening to my friends and colleagues talk about all the above, and more. The sheer time and effort that our politicians put into helping the people they represent – and the people they don’t – never fails to impress me, never fails to wash away that cynicism.
The people we elect aren’t heroes, but they aren’t amoral hucksters either. They are men and women, friends and colleagues, often doing remarkable things in a messy, diverse, infuriating country. What I hope is that others take a moment to remember this, just occasionally. That’s what I hope, and hope is important in depressing times.