The paradox at the heart of our political system – indeed of most political systems – is that we expect, or at least hope, that our politicians will be people of principle who say what they believe and believe what they say. Yet the sad truth is that politics by its very nature attracts people driven not by principle but by personal ambition. A recent example of this, if example were needed, is Liz Truss’s desperate and embarrassing attempt to cling on to her job by whatever means necessary, backtracking and reversing and U-turning on a daily basis. Ditto Boris Johnson’s refusal to quit as the previous PM until he literally had no choice (the same Boris Johnson who once wrote two drafts of an article for the Spectator, one in favour of Brexit and another arguing against it, while he waited for the results of the referendum).
Another example is provided by Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s resignation letter to Truss on October 19, which the mainstream media analysed exclusively in terms of two possible motivations: did she resign because of a relatively minor breach of the ministerial code or did she resign because of ideological differences with Truss? Am I the only one who strongly suspects that Braverman’s resignation had nothing to do with either of these alternatives but was a transparent (at least to me) attempt to reposition herself outside the Truss inner circle and thereby present herself as a critic and opponent of Truss rather than a supporter? Clearly she saw that Truss was about to be toppled and didn’t want to be taken down with her as collateral damage, especially as she had her eyes on the top job herself. Yet none of the media outlets I saw or read even mentioned this as a possibility.
Could there be a world in which politics attracted people of principle rather than those driven primarily by vanity and ambition? It’s hard to imagine, because who would want to do such a dirty and thankless job unless fuelled by such self-serving motives? And yes of course there are exceptions to the rule, a minority of politicians who are true to their beliefs, maybe even models of probity and integrity. The trouble is, with politics being the cutthroat business it is, such paragons of virtue rarely make it to the top.