Sunday, 23 October 2011

The Challenge of Election Defeat

What happens to politicians after they cease to be elected?

In his book "The Political Animal", Jeremy Paxman describes how there is a gap in political memoirs and reflections. There is little captured of the elation of winning, or the despondency of counting of votes, and "little about the feelings that churn through a candidate's heart as he or she watches the votes being stacked up, and nothing much, either, about what it is like to put politics behind you. Either these things do not matter any more, or the wounds have been cauterized ".

Instead, politicians tend to look back on their time in power, and write their own history to suit themselves, and show what a difference they made. But as Paxman remarks, if it had not been them to take certain decisions, it would have been someone else. Economic and social forces are often out of the control of the politician, and the best they can do is to react to the changes in the best way that they can.

There had been calls for a change to Parish welfare for over a decade before it was finally put in place, but the way in which the older system based on small parishes was breaking down meant that it would come, sooner or later. And yet one still hears an argument that the old system was better, because the Constable knows the people in his Parish - despite the patent absurdity of this in a Parish like St Helier or St Brelade.

Likewise, the pressure on the taxation system from outside the Island meant that sooner or later, some kind of Goods and Services Tax would be inevitable. Zero -ten was a frantic and rushed steal from the Isle of Man, which itself was a quick fix against European pressure, even though it is was presented as carefully thought out!

Politicians may be responsible for the form changes take, but they also have their advisers, and often easily come unstuck when they do try and do something entirely by themselves - Guy de Faye being a notable example. And yet they bounce back, and seem unaware of the judgment of the electorate. As Paxman remarks, "even the most disgraced find things to crow about"

Paxman notes the problem may be over the kind of person who wants to be a politician:

"There are ritual remarks about wanting to change the world, or to be of service. They are rarely totally convincing. It often seems, in both autobiography and conversation, that the self-confidence required of a politician is the enemy of self-knowledge. They are not, by and large, a reflective breed."

Jungian Analyst Larry Staples commented on how rationality plays such a key part in our lives, and with politicians, there must be quite a severe Cartesian split between their political life, presented as well-reasoned and their home life where they can let their emotions out

Descartes' " I think, therefore I am" reflects a pervasive attitude in highly rational western societies. Here, rational thought is sacred. Thoughts trump feelings as the respectable guide for decisions and action. Feelings are treated as inferior and are seen more as nuisances that have to be tolerated than as helpful providers of direction for our lives.

So what happens after you are voted out of office? In the UK, they clear their desks as swiftly as possible, often trying to avoid meeting those who are still there, and get away unseen. For there is an element of humiliation, and they don't want a reminder of what they have lost. But in Jersey, there are 28 days in which they remain in the States, and in office, if a Minister. For people who are not, by and large, reflective, and who may have enough problems coming to terms with their experience, this may be very difficult.

It may be an experience, on a lesser scale, but none the less comparative to a bereavement, where people simply don't know what to say when they meet you, or perhaps say "I'm sorry you didn't get elected", and then rush past.

Sharon Barr-David has an article on "Managing Downsizing-Related Conversations" which is very germane to this kind of situation. She says how it is difficult for people to talk to people who have lost their jobs, and very much the same applies to people who have lost an election, when they have been in politics for a number of years:

You might find that the most difficult part of the conversation has to do with you your reactions, thoughts, discomfort and anxiety. In some situations, you might find yourself dreading even the thought of having to go through the actual conversation. Or you might find yourself feeling uncomfortable during the conversation itself. These responses are normal and not atypical of managers going through similar organizational changes. Here are some potential sources for these feelings:

Mixed feelings about the change. You might have questions in your own mind about the direction of the change, the way it is handled or your role within it. You might be experiencing a sense of internal dissonance that makes the conversation uncomfortable for you.

Difficulty separating from the departing person. The attachments you formed with the person in question might be meaningful to you. Some may have been your colleagues for many years. It is difficult to say goodbye to a team member or friend as well as to your shared experience.

Perceived lack of skills. You might feel that you lack the necessary skill to navigate the conversation competently and handle whatever comes your way during the discussion.

General discomfort with this type of conversation. You might have an overall sense of discomfort with conversations that have a strong overt or covert emotional component.

The other person's response. A conversation can become difficult as a result of the other person's manner of handling it. You might encounter a wide range of responses - some will be delighted to be leaving, others will be emotional, angry, blaming or bitter. Some will handle their feelings with more restraint; others will show them more openly. Regardless, each difficult conversation will have an emotional dimension: in some cases the feelings will leak into the conversation; in other cases they might burst into it.

Some politicians, especially those past retirement age, can retire gracefully. Deputy Bob Hill is going to write about the history of farms in St Martin, which he has never had time to do before. But for those of still working age, it can be much more difficult. Bills, after all, still have to be paid, and there is no longer the politician's salary, either as income or as a boost to income.

We have heard at least one politician saying "I don't know what I'll do now". It is, of course, these times that people find out who their true friends are, and how many just evaporate, or say they'll get in touch, and have been meaning to get in touch, and never do.

But perhaps this also can be considered a time for reflection, for looking not just at what you want to do, but what kind of person you want to be. In his book "A Matter of Life and Death", John V Taylor said that experiences of dying, if we embrace them, and learn from them, can help us come back to life in a more reflective and profound way.

"Most people are content to remain only half alive... God is not hugely concerned as to whether we are religious or not. What matters to God, and matters supremely, is whether we are alive or not. If your religion brings you more fully to life, God will be in it; but if your religion inhibits your capacity for life or makes you run away from it, you may be sure God is against it, just as Jesus was."

Can politicians move on? Moving on does not mean dumping the past, or forgetting the past, but not forever trying to relive past victories, past triumphs. How many politicians who have left the States feel they have a special mandate to point out why things are going wrong - and what they would do to fix the issues?

Perhaps it is true that they have good insights, but I often get the impression that they have never quite got over that loss of power, that experience of being "in there", and are trying to recover some sense of what it was like to make pronouncements that would be heard, like a record that wants to play again and again, somehow stuck in a timeless groove - and of course, the JEP is happy to feed into that pattern in their lives.* As Jungian Analyst Larry Staples noted:

We hold onto jobs, relationships, locales, or political or religious beliefs long after the real feeling and nourishment have disappeared. The openness to change, which was a part of childhood, had become a distant memory. We become flat and depressed, and growth slows. Gone from our lives is the animation that comes from movement and change.

And that is echoed in John V Taylor's remarks about "holding on".

"Death followed by resurrection, life through dying, is the way things are. It is not a truth limited to the one event of Christ's death and resurrection, nor does it affect us only when we approach the end of our lives. It is the principle of all existence. Hang on to what you have of life and you are lost. Let go, do the necessary dying, and a fuller, richer quality of aliveness will be given to you" (John V. Taylor, Weep Not for Me for the World Council of Churches, 1986).

The Political Animal, Jeremy Paxman
Weep not for Me, John V Taylor
A Matter of Life and Death, John V Taylor

* I'm excluding the JEP article here where they got opinions from people such as Ben Shenton, Jennifer Bridges etc. That is the JEP proactively contacting ex-politicians, not the ex-politicians trying to get a platform for themselves.

No comments: