Some of us would rather steer completely clear of it. Others may keep a distant eye on the headlines which matter to us personally. For me, politics has been my dominant interest for the past decade now. I repeatedly find myself asking exactly why.
Why, when for so much of the time this field is dominated by negativity, hatred and hypocrisy, do I keep on wanting to do and know more? Would I not just be better off giving up and running a cozy country pub? For a time, such thoughts would really frustrate me and even impact my mental health.
But it is only in recent months that I have truly realised just how important this constant questioning of one’s motives and guiding principles are – whatever our field of interest – though perhaps particularly, within the world of politics.
Politics, when all is said and done, is about our everyday interactions and experiences within society, whether we’re a citizen of a small island nation like the UK or a superstate like China. It is therefore wholly right that those of us who wish to invest our time and efforts in it constantly keep a check on our motives and guiding principles, given the potential consequences our intellectual stimuli can ultimately have upon others. More specifically, if we aspire to best represent the views, concerns and problems of others, we must be open and receptive to constantly reviewing whether our personal ambitions and motives are compatible with projecting these – often over and above our own. If not, we leave ourselves highly vulnerable to putting the self before the cause, manifesting in vested interests, hypocrisy and corruption.
So how do we keep a check on what’s really motivating us, without stopping us getting on with the job itself? Such questioning and self-evaluation may not always be especially obvious. When I look back over the past decade of my own political participation, I will freely admit I have not always been motivated and guided by the right values and principles.
When I was 14, I joined the Consevative Party. I can now reflect that my ultimate reasons for doing so were rooted in the attraction of preserving the social and economic conditions I had been privileged enough to be brought up in and benefit from. Furthermore, I was tempted by the grand, lavish and theatrical lifestyle available within establishment politics. In not achieving the ‘social status’ and satisfaction my insecure 14-year-old self desired at home, such temptations motivated me to take the easy and comfortable political route. Between the ages of 16 and 17, I began to become more aware of the wider damage and suffering my party’s policy and ideology were inflicting upon those less privileged than myself. In response to this (or so I thought at the time), when Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party in 2015, I lept at the chance to latch on to this “radical rebel” and joined the party.
What was less obviously occurring in my own conscience, was a deep sense of disappointment and dissatisfaction with the society I thought I was ‘supposed’ to benefit from. Though I was brought up in relative economic and social privilege, I did not achieve much at school in the form of academic grades and suffered periodically from depression and anxiety from the age of 15, alongside experiencing family break down and tragedy. Reflecting on this period now, I clearly see it was in fact the very personal anger and bitterness I held against this that was telling my ego to rebel and lash out.
Whilst I can respect the fact this was, in many ways, an important part of my political and personal development, I also observe it was a vitally important stage to move on from. No matter our personal experiences and reactions – whilst such traits do have a place in fighting against injustice – the political animal in us all must be primarily motivated by the principles of hope, care, compassion, forgiveness and ultimate peace. Sound wishy-washy? No, it’s the unpopular but critical truth. When a society gives in to the easiest, short-term comforts of accepting the worst motives in people as our best bet – it succumbs to a never ending dark tunnel of moral apathy and sacrifice.
Now, as a politics student and activist at uni confident in the motives behind my sociliast principles, I constantly ask myself: Am I enjoying this argument a bit too much? Who will really benefit from what I am doing? Is this my ego talking over my conscience? What are the long-term effects? And ultimately, does this issue line up with the core principles and values to which all of my efforts should stem from?
No matter our ideological beliefs and values, as the political activists, campaigners and office holders of the future, if we are to succeed in facing off the almighty challenges of our generation, we must ensure we are working for the collective, not the self – for a livable future, not an irrelevant or poorly judged past – and ultimately for a more just and fair society, whereby we may all have equal access to the resources, opportunities and basic amenities we need to develop and thrive as both compassionate individuals and united communities.
If our generation wants to fix politics we must first do our very best to fix ourselves: to fix our minds and hearts on the motives and principles which provide the critical starting points from which all our efforts must stem from in order to progress together.