A politician thinks of the next election – a statesman of the next generation.– James Freeman Clarke
This past week I was invited to attend a conference in London sponsored by REFORM, an independent, UK charitable, non-party think tank whose mission is to set out a better way to deliver public services and economic prosperity. I was reluctant to attend but glad I did. The Rt Hon Sir Philip Hammond MP, Secretary of State for Defence, plus the Rt. Hon Jim Murphy MP, Shadow-Secretary of State for Defence were the keynote speakers, plus two panels of government, business and media experts.
For those of you not familiar with the British political system, the party in power (currently the Conservative Party) effectively guides policy and runs the country, but the other party, (in this case the Labour Party) matches each of the key positions with a Shadow-Secretary, who puts forth alternative points of view during policy debates in Parliament, and challenges the data and decisions of the ruling party.
What struck me about this conference and the issue, curtailing and making more efficient defence spending, (a very contentious topic, especially when defence spending in the UK is around 6% of the total national spend) is that it was not only a fair and rational set of arguments, pro and con, but was conducted in the spirit of open debate, respect for the opposition’s point of view, and with statesman-like rhetoric.
I couldn’t help but compare the tone of this debate, featuring opposing parties, with the current way in which policy issues are debated in the US. First of all, it is my experience that the US has regressed from a culture of statesmanship, openness, honesty and factual debate, to name calling, soundbite one-upmanship, inflammatory media coverage and biased “political comment”. The US has moved far away from debating to find common ground and the best solutions, and has fallen face first into political infighting and obstructionism.
While no governmental process is perfect, I was definitely impressed with the quality of the debate and the tone in the room during this conference. US politicians need to realign themselves with the original purpose of the democratic political process, which is not to get in power and stay in power, but to serve well the people of the nation, not just your party or your state or your own small constituency.
Tight Lines . . .
John R Childress