Trust and Power

24 May 2009

I have been trying to put my finger on why I feel so outraged at what we’ve learnt about those MP’s who appear to have abused their expenses. Set against so much wickedness in the world, their behaviour is certainly wrong and needs to be addressed, but it needs to kept in proportion when we live in a world where daily there are stories of abuse, violence and criminality which destroys people. Why is it that so many of us feel outraged as this story about the MPs unfolds?

Is it because this isn’t just another story of expenses being fiddled, but is far more about the trust which lies at the heart of the British democratic system being abused? When we go and vote, we trust an individual to represent our best interests. We give power through the ballot box and we trust those who represent us (even if we didn’t vote for them) to be worthy of the power which they have been given. I think that I am outraged because, in a healthy society, power and trust go hand-in-hand. When the trust is abused, then what about the power?

How people use power is a moral question. The Christian faith is founded on an individual whose power was to be found in vulnerability and service. Because of our history, the Christian story has shaped the British approach to politics – vulnerability to not being re-elected and election being to the service of all  people and not just your supporters. It is an approach to politics which is so different to those worst expressions of politics, where power is taken for self-interest and is used against one section or group.

I think this why I feel so outraged at the expenses fiasco – because floating duck nests, moat clearing and non-existent mortgages do not reflect vulnerability and service. They undermine the trust which is so central to British democracy. We have to be able to trust those we vote for to use their position for the good of each and every section of our society no matter who they are, who they voted for, where the come from, their colour or their creed. Essentially, we have to be able to trust those we vote for to be moral in what they do once elected, trust them to use their power in a moral way and to be worthy of our trust – then they can be described as ‘honourable’.

First published in the Cleethorpes Chronicle May 2009

The Power to be Wrong

2 October 2008

Well after some weeks off writing this blog, I feel it is time to get back to it. Thank you to all those who have been prompting me so to do.

At a very gloomy time for news, for me a bright spot has been the success of the group of retired Gurkhas in their fight for the right to settle in Britain. Leaving aside the immigration issues, the story is  a very good example of a reality that being in power and having the support of lawyers officials etc., does not always mean that you are right.  Here the government were wrongly advised and thank God for the impartiality of the courts.  But does it always have to entail litigation?

We have developed a culture  where it has become acceptable to be just inside the law.  Such a culture pervades government, business and even the voluntary sector.  It enables those in power to sit very likely to the needs of the powerless or to upholding what is right, because they know that, in the main, the powerless do not have the resources to champion what is right. Only the well resourced can take the risk of challenging the powerful, for if the powerful are in the end deemed to be just on the right side of what is lawful, then the  financial consequences for the powerless can be disastrous.

The Gurkhas have been able to wage a very public campaign, but how many other instances are there of people with  power and position, supported by lawyers, assuming they can do what they like because they are just inside the law?  Those of us with power need to be certain that our first motivation is to do what is right, rather than what it is expedient.  At times there will be those who will prompt the powerful to see what they can get away with, but the world is a better place when powerful are prepared to be wrong in the eyes of those driven by expedience, for the sake of doing what is right.

As we look at the turmoil on the global financial markets, how much of this is being driven by those who have lived just inside the regulations and just inside the law, justifying their risks because they can get away with them for short term advantage, rather than starting from a desire to do what is right for the long term.

The power to be wrong in the face of expedience, may, in the long-term, lead to a far healthier future –  especially when you are dealing with people.  When we work with people doing what is right builds trust – doing what we can get away with, erodes it – will the Gurkhas ever trust the government again?