One of the first assignments my student group was faced with a year ago was a short ‘How to write about…’ piece. For some insane reason I chose politicians.
Having written two or three drafts in different voices – the irately sceptical ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ and the quietly cynical – I came up what I saw as nearest the truth. Well, being a councillor at the time, I would say that, wouldn’t I? Since I wrote this, the spotlight on corruption in public life has largely switched to the media itself.
How to Write About Politicians
When writing about politicians, it is important to remember that they are individuals and you cannot generalise. Those detected straying from the prescribed code of behaviour have made a reputation which reflects on all of them, which is unfortunate. But at every level, from Westminster to your local council, the great majority are drawn into politics through a desire to make some changes for good. Putting themselves through the election process, with full exposure in the public arena, makes candidates vulnerable to criticism and invasion of their personal space. However, they get to meet people they would never see otherwise and elections can be a lot of fun.
The financial rewards are not great when compared with City salaries and the job carries few perks. Any attempt to play the system can bring about public disgrace, as we have seen in recent times. Most do it for the love of the thing, as it’s a stressful job, and some succumb to the successors to stress, such as poor health and a tendency to drink too much. The few who gain notoriety through being caught with their fingers in the till become national figures for a short time—not the sort of prominence they were seeking—while those “caught in the act” with someone not the spouse or partner somehow manage to hold on, thanks to the support of families, colleagues and the constituency parties.
In recent times some prominent politicians have been branded as less than truthful. Some might be. On the other hand, they have to rely on vast amounts of information supplied by civil servants and mistakes can be made and information may be out of date in fast-moving situations.
Local councillors bear huge responsibilities. In Planning, for example, the decisions made by councillors have direct, often financial, impact on people’s lives. The significance of permission given for a new supermarket in the community or an extension to a family house is enormous for the individuals involved. So councillors are ruled by a prescriptive code of conduct to ensure probity. Decisions on all aspects of local life, leisure centres, day care for the elderly, wheelie bins and Council Tax, all rest ultimately with the councillors. Unlike M.P.s, they live in the community seven days a week and may be sitting targets for complaints of all kinds—anything from a young family in desperate need of housing or simply someone reporting a new pothole. And, naturally, anything they do may be noted! At local council level the financial rewards vary across the country and are generally quite low, and there is little if any opportunity for financial misbehaviour. While there is opportunity for flirtation, the vast majority live fairly ordinary lives and give much of their time and energy to working for the common good.
If you are writing about politicians, remember they are simply people, like everyone else. They have their strengths and their weaknesses but mostly they are dedicated, in their own individual ways, to doing some good in the world. It might be more fun to make out they are all rogues and philanderers but the facts say otherwise. When you have written your first draft you might like to ask one of them to read it through for you!