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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Monday 28 October 2013

Political Skyfall

Listening to the beautiful theme from Skyfall while reading the morning news got me thinking about Canadian Politics.  As secret emails and whispers of political hit-lists become public, the average citizen is getting a dark look at the process behind our politics and it's not a pretty sight.

Arrogant agents gone rogue, or acting with the tacit permission of eye-turning political bosses.  Truths being buried, forgotten and spun.  Tales of money lost, of individuals threatened and a select few people living by a set of rules that differ from what's expected of the average public.  Then there is the messaging, the carefully crafted turns of phrase designed to communicate in one direction only.You know the rules of the game; you've been playing it long enough.
You'd be surprised how many political operatives see themselves as pseudo James Bonds; tough, competitive, willing to do what needs done in a dark world to keep the forces of evil at bay, or to keep their own team in power.  They stand tall, frequently drink hard, and are extremely confident in their ability to do what they do - it just happens that what they do isn't very nice.

To them, the world's not a particularly nice place.  It's full of operators just like them, playing to win; spying on Brazilian Presidents, issuing deliberately misleading robocalls, parodying then cribbing Opponents' policies, playing one segment of the population against the other to secure votes are all just tricks of the trade.  There's no middle ground in this game; you win or lose, and if you're not willing to do what it takes, someone else will.

That, political people will tell you, is the uncomfortable truth that people don't want to hear - politics is an ugly business.  Attack ads are used for one simple reason - they are effective.  Nobody likes to talk about this reality, but it remains the reality none the less.  Politics is war and someone's got to do the bloody work, which is why we have War Rooms, isn't it?

When you see yourself as the tip of the spear, you see yourself as doing the essential dirty work that others don't want to get their hands dirty with.  As such, there are certain compensations one feels entitled to.  

Bond abuses the public purse for the finery to which he feels entitled; he treats the bits of public property that line his utility belt with abandon.  He disregards the rules of superiors to maintain the security of his country, ignoring that fine mental line between aggressive service and bloody revenge.  After all, that's the job he's paid to do - use his judgement in the field and keep threats to his employers and his country at arm's length. 

For their part, Bond's superiors are willing to give Bond a lot of leeway, because he produces results.  They tend not to worry about the destruction of public property that goes along with his methods; in fact they turn a blind eye to what he does, so long as he wins.  

Until, that is, that methodology becomes public.

That's where Skyfall finds James Bond and M - relics of a less-connected, more individually consequence-free past, operating with yesterday's code of conduct, getting in trouble for unjustifiably collected secrets and quietly unethical practices for which justification can't be spun.

That's kind of where we are with politics, too.  

Mike Duffy was hired to do a job - beat the drums of war and motivate the Conservative base to open their wallets, which they did; does that not deserve a bit of leniency on the hard-and-fast rule of political ethics?  Could that explain at least part of the story he's spinning of willful enabling by the Conservative Party?

Nigel Wright did the same; he was given a crisis to King and Party to solve and did his job.  

David Price and Sandro Lissi?  You can't train loyalty, which is why Ford brought them in.  He knew they would get the job he wanted done; broader consequences weren't an issue.  Should anything untoward come to light, the politicians just need to minimize, bait-and-switch or if all else fails, sacrifice the agent to protect the sanctity of the Party (which often as not stands in as cover for their own skins).

There are more than a few leaders attempting to pull the plausible deniability card; they didn't know what their operatives were doing, be it about scandals, video tapes or gas plants.  It's an old line, but in these days of transmedia, social murmeration and stories that seem to have legs beyond where they should,  the appearance of accountability and authenticity doesn't cut it.  People are demanding the real thing, raw and unfiltered.

Which is why the War Room spinmeisters and the bosses that enable them are facing an existential crisis.  They have operated under the convenient belief that people don't want to be consulted on process or end product; the job of politicians is to present visions that the public can choose from, period.  The rest of the political process they compare to sausage making; people don't want to know what goes into the product, they just want the product itself.  So back off, people - and let them to their work.

It's an apt metaphor, worthy following through; politics is like sausage, as are the policies they result in.  The end product is not as healthy for the people as it could and should be, largely due to the lack of transparency around what goes into making it.  In today's climate with email trails, social media and citizen investigative journalism, that process is increasingly coming to light and people don't like what they see.  

In fact, there's a growing social movement for both increased transparency of process and increased input from the general public; the more we see what goes into political sausage, the more we realize we've been duped and sustained on a diet of chum bits.  There's blood in the water; what we crave now is meaty substance.

The revelation of process doesn't reflect well on the politicians who have sanctioned War Room politics for so long.  As the cognitive dissonance of standing for one thing but practicing another reverberates more loudly, something has got to give.

This leaves the War Roomers in the same precarious place Bond finds himself over the course of Skyfall - as champions of old ways being questioned, uncertain if there is still a place for what they do.

Let the sky fall
When it crumbles
We will stand tall
Face it all

It's a question the pointy-end people have a hard time answering at face value.  Confident, competitive and aggressive, they don't get ahead by giving in to doubt or insecurity or by questioning their own tactics.  They get ahead by exploiting the doubts and insecurities of others.

These folk aren't trained to register crises of institutional faith or paradigm shifts - to them, the political landscape is just an ever-shifting battle field. 

For seasoned political operatives, the shadowy battle for public hearts and minds and against enemy Parties never ends.  Is it any wonder they fear the trend towards open government and open data?

It's no coincidence that we're seeing a growing friction between politicians and the political operatives that have served them loyally, just as it's not happenstance that this tension is mounting at a time when more and more people are recognizing that our democratic system is broken.

War Room political operatives see two-way consultations and meaningful dialogue as weaknesses, creating openings that less-civic minded opponents will exploit.  They will fight to keep the Berlin Wall of politics in place.  

Of course, change will happen - it always does.  As with any good story, the question is who will get sacrificed before the last act is over.

1 comment:

  1. "Speaking in a rare question and answer session Mr Younger, traditionally known as ‘C’ within MI6 circles, added: ‘We know that if we undermine British values, even in the name of defending them, then we have failed."

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