Monday, 24 August 2015

Hypocrisy or Hippocrates? What should we expect from our politicians?

Politics must surely be rooted in some degree in a philosophical framework. There must be a sense of purpose beyond mere acquisition of power and self-interest. To the Right this tends to focus on individualism, self-reliance and the Small State; to the Left on mutuality, community and shared responsibility. The common theme binding the whole spectrum must be the well-being of the country governed. How that well-being is measured is again a dividing issue. For some, it is all about economics [money] whilst for others, it concerns the people who constitute the nation. Such philosophical musings are an important backdrop to policy and the pronouncements of political leaders. There is nothing wrong in a devout Right-wing government unashamedly announcing policies which reduce taxation on individuals, insofar as this is what it was elected to do. There is nothing wrong in a left-of-centre governing party taxing companies and individuals more highly in order to fund more effective public services. What is wrong, is for the one cynically to claim the clothes of the other - to claim that taxing people more is doing them good; that removing rights and social security is to help people; that squeezing the poor to pay for the sins of the wealthy is in any way morally right. This is pure hypocrisy.

The Tory government seems unashamed in behaving in such a way, presumably in the search for outcomes which please its adherents. But this is not acting for the well-being of the population, merely for some of them. It may [or may not] work in achieving financial goals, which are the false gods they seem to worship but whether it does or not, let us at least be sold the truth.

The State is not just money but people. Any political philosophy should be open as to its purposes and its impacts on people's lives.  John Stuart Mill wrote of moral behaviour as causing the least harm to the largest number; the Hippocratic Oath, sworn for many years by the medical profession, commands "First, do no harm". Perhaps politicians of all parties should be bound by a similar oath on coming to Parliament, so that they are able to be held to account against a philosophically based but humane yardstick and reminder about the motivations which should drive them. Doing least harm would seem a good starting point.

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