I have heard Tony Abbott described as an astute politician, some even go so far as to say the best Opposition leader the country has seen, which begs the question – what makes a good politician?
Is it their ability to get the job or their ability to do the job?
I came across an interesting article written by former member of the US House of Representatives, Lee Hamilton who said
“The press and public often pay attention to what politicians say, but less to how well they do what they’re supposed to do.”
He then goes on to share his thoughts about what makes a good politician.
“Members of Congress play a central role in our lives. They shape our health-care system, make crucial decisions about the U.S. economy, and represent the hopes and interests of every American in Washington. Given this fact, I’m always surprised that relatively little attention is focused on examining closely whether someone serving in or running for Congress has the personal attributes it takes to be an effective member of the institution. If someone’s behavior is shady or unsavory, that will make the news. But the qualities and skills that set good politicians apart should draw more notice.
Chief among those qualities is honesty. The public may believe that politics is a dirty business, but effective members of Congress must be trustworthy. They understand that to work together over the course of years, they must level with their colleagues. The same is true in their dealings with constituents, who are on the lookout for hyperbole and misleading statements.”
I think Australians are entitled to feel let down in this most crucial aspect of being a good politician. Honesty, integrity, and a willingness to work together towards a solution should be the foremost criterion.
“The best politicians also sustain an unusually high energy level and an ability to focus on the task at hand. They tend to have few hobbies, for the simple reason that public office is all-consuming; there’s always another item on the to-do list.”
When I think of Tony falling asleep when Indigenous leaders had travelled three days to meet with him, when I think of the time spent running and swimming and cycling, when I think of his smirking inattention as the Treasurer delivered a devastating budget, and the countless photo opportunities, I am disappointed again.
“[The] ability to keep oneself in perspective is crucial to a politician. After years in office, it is supremely tempting to think of a legislative seat as an entitlement, as something held by right. It’s not. Good politicians not only understand that they serve in a representative democracy, they embrace the challenges and opportunities this offers them.
Usually, they are good communicators who genuinely like all kinds of people and are comfortable talking to perfect strangers in all kinds of environments. They are accessible to the grand and the humble alike. They are sensitive to the mood in a room, know how to read an audience, and are quick to respond. They are generally open to other points of view, and know that while they may differ with someone on one issue, they’ll likely be working with him or her on another in the future.
And perhaps most important, they understand that politics involves give and take, and the ability to find common ground. A good politician listens very carefully to those on the other side, not only to learn their arguments, but especially to learn how far he or she can move them and how far he or she has to be moved in order to reach consensus.
This is why politics puts a premium on resourcefulness and intelligence, and tends, over time, to discourage ideological blinkers — if you approach a problem by saying that all the good is in your side and all the bad lies with the opposition, then you’ll never accomplish anything. Good politicians persist in trying to forge agreement on policy or political goals, and they can take defeat in stride; they know that setbacks and criticism go with the territory, and are quick to learn from them and move forward.”
I note our Prime Minister still refuses to face the questions of Australian public on Q&A. He uses the official government Prime Minister of Australia website to peddle Liberal propaganda and, a quarter way through his term in office, is still producing booklets about the previous government – blaming them not only domestically in the media, and endlessly in official fiscal documents, but several times on the international stage, much to everyone’s disdain. The rest of the world recognise the true state of our country’s finances and applaud the actions that saw us through the GFC and look on us in bemusement as to why we would vote out such a successful progressive government to elect the Colossal Fossil.
To paraphrase Lee Hamilton’s concluding statement,
A good politician must be able to express in the halls of the powerful the hopes, dreams, and interests of ordinary Australians. That’s what they got sent to Canberra to do, and the very best never forget it.