It’s a shame our national politicians can’t be more like our local ones

Why can't our national politicians learn from our local ones, asks James Marston. Picture : Rui Viei

Why can't our national politicians learn from our local ones, asks James Marston. Picture : Rui Vieira/PA Wire - Credit: PA

James Marston says local politicians tend to be good people generally. So what's gone wrong in national Government?

I was listening to the radio this morning and one of those politically heavy weight interviews came over the airwaves.

The politician, to my mind, under questioning was evasive, oblique and indirect. It was as if he had either something to hide or a narrative he wanted to weave. I couldn't help but feel disappointed. But this sort of slipperiness isn't unusual. You hear it time and time again, from all sides of the political fence, on the radio and can spot it on the television almost any time a politician is interviewed. It is as if there's a language they use of obfuscation.

More than 20 years ago the political class – in the light of cash for questions – attempted to clean up its act. It came up with what was then called the Nolan principles and which are now part and parcel of public life.

1. Selflessness

Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.

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2. Integrity

Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.

3. Objectivity

Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.

4. Accountability

Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.

5. Openness

Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.

6. Honesty

Holders of public office should be truthful.

7. Leadership

Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.

These Seven Principles apply to anyone who works as a public office holder including:

-those elected or appointed to public office, nationally or locally,

-those appointed to work in the civil service, local government, the police, courts and probation services, Non Departmental Public Bodies, and in the health, education, social and care services, and

-those in the private sector delivering public services.

Reading these principles today and in the wake of the recent local elections I cannot help think that in my experience the local politician is generally genuinely interested in the public good. That they are there out of a sense of public duty. Some, it is true, might enjoy the kudos of council membership but I can't think of many instances – though there will be one or two – where local politicians have been found corrupt or 'in it for themselves'.

In fact I would go as far to say our local political institutions are largely honest and attract fairly decent people.

By contrast the national political class seem to be increasingly distant and increasing detached from the communities they serve. And in the light of the last couple of years or so of political upheaval and machinations it is, perhaps, worth asking if they have lived up to the standards we demand of them. Do they act solely in the public interest? Are they truthful? Do they submit themselves to scrutiny? Do they have integrity and objectivity? I know what I think. What do you think?

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