• There Is A World Beyond Politics

    Politics is a tough business.  Politicians need a particularly robust temperament if they are to ride the roller-coaster of political fortune for any length of time.  The bouquets, of course, are welcome and enjoyable when they come, but the brickbats – and they can come thick and fast – can hurt.  Politicians, like Shylock, bleed like anyone else.

    Politicians have a curious image in public opinion.  As a class they are usually denigrated and reviled, but as individuals they are usually treated with, I often thought, exaggerated respect.  And the truth is that, despite the strong public perception that they are a class apart, politicians are on the whole a group of perfectly normal people, exhibiting all the weaknesses and virtues that are found in the population at large.

    In a properly functioning democracy, that should not be a surprise.  Politicians are just a representative group of voters.  We get the representatives we deserve.

    So, why do people do it?  It is certainly not – again, contrary to much public opinion – for the money; most politicians, especially those who reach the higher reaches of their profession, could have earned much higher incomes elsewhere.  In the end, they are self-selecting – motivated in most cases by a desire to make a difference that, according to their lights, will make things better.

    These thoughts were prompted by the news that Shane Jones is to leave politics in favour of a top job in an area that he knows well – the fishing industry, and particularly fishing as a means of advancing the interests of indigenous peoples.

    He is not of course the first politician to make such a decision.  Even in recent times, one can think of Simon Power – seen by many as a potential leader of the National Party – who left to take up a career in the private sector; and even more recently, Tony Ryall has announced his intention not to stand again and to seek, at the age of fifty, a new career.

    Such decisions, particularly for senior politicians, will inevitably raise eyebrows, especially in the “chattering classes” where it is an article of faith that politicians are all mad with the ambition to climb the greasy pole, and that every action must have a political explanation.  I know this well, because I recognise a parallel between Shane Jones’ decision and my own departure from British politics and return to New Zealand.

    In 1994, I found myself in a situation with some similarities to the one facing Shane Jones.  I, too, had contested my party’s leadership and had been defeated.  I, too, had begun – partly as a consequence of that defeat – to consider other options, helped in my case by the fact that my wife and I had already formed the intention of coming back to New Zealand in our retirement.

    It began to occur to me that, rather than continue to fight a losing battle in the UK for the policies I believed in, it would make sense to come back to New Zealand while I was still able to make a contribution in a different field.  So, when I was shoulder-tapped about coming back to lead Waikato University, I decided – as much to my surprise as anyone else’s – to accept.

    My political colleagues were aghast, not so much at the prospect of losing me, I fear, but more because of what my decision showed about the view I took of what they regarded as the only thing worth doing.  But some of the British commentators showed some understanding of my decision, and expressed the opinion that politics itself would be healthier if some of its practitioners recognised that there is a world beyond politics.

    The decision taken by Shane Jones will be analysed and mined exhaustively by the commentators for its political significance.  Has he lost faith in the Labour Party or its leadership?   HHHHHas he been bought off by John Key?  Why is he going just before a general election?

    My advice, though, is that we should look at Shane Jones, not so much as a politician but as an ordinary human being.  On any reasonable basis, he has given the Labour Party excellent service, and politics a good shot.  He has had nine years in parliament, been a respected voice and effective shadow minister, and made a creditable challenge for the party leadership.

    He has had his share of the brickbats in politics, and it is unlikely that he would succeed in another shot at the party leadership.  He has a good experience and understanding of what is required to succeed in other fields and there is another such field that is close to his heart.  When an opportunity has presented itself – even if engineered by scheming political opponents – why should he not, after years of party and public service, put his own interests first for a change?   Isn’t that what most of us would do, and don’t we want our politicians to be more like us?

    Bryan Gould

    23 April 2014






  1. michael multhaup says: April 27, 2014 at 11:12 pmReply

    It’s all about values. If the advantage of the individual who is supposed to represent a particular part of the public with particular beliefs betrays those he had a moral contract with and sells them out to the ‘enemy’ he is in my eyes a traitor who becomes the instrument of the neo-liberals. Shane Jones is just another puppet in the game the corporates play called ‘democracy’… I suppose what I don’t understand is that you of all people, someone who pointing out the demise of our democratic rights is making excuses for a political traitor.

    • Bryan Gould says: April 27, 2014 at 11:42 pmReply

      I have a lot of sympathy with this comment and agree that it is unfortunate that Shane Jones has apparently allowed himself to be manipulated by his erstwhile political opponents. The point I wanted to make, however, is that politicians should be allowed to bring a political career to an end – preferably to do something else of similar or greater utility – without being accused of treachery; our politics would be healthier if that became more common.

      • michael multhaup says: April 27, 2014 at 11:58 pmReply

        I would say absolutely yes, agreed that a politician should be allowed to leave. However it is about timing and this whole thing reeks of manipulation by the hollow men… I am in favour of politicians having a maximum shelf life of 2 legislative periods anyhow… but this is different, Jones is a political traitor and I would go as far as to say it is more or less corruption what has taken place. It reminds me of the practices of politicians during the Weimar Republic and the political manipulations that went on then – I suppose not much has changed – it is still the wage slaves against the bourgeois capitalists…

  2. Stephen Dennison says: May 7, 2014 at 5:06 pmReply

    Hello Bryan

    Ironically I was reading Tony Benn’s diaries from the Eighties and Nineties at the time of his death. One sense I did get from them was one of a little smugness with regards to how much he gave to the cause, as it were, and that his colleagues were in the main not up to this level of commitment. I guess there have always been career politicians, without much in the way of a cultural hinterland, who saw politics as the sine qua non of their existence.

    I also read recently in an article about David Steel, Stephen Glover from the Daily Mail spoke of his strange and inexplicable affection for the former Liberal leader. As a politics fan I see his point, although my connection with yourself, perhaps as equally tenuous, is born out by politically similar mores. So yes on an individual politician tends to attract favour more than the collective (perhaps with notable exeptions).

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