6.3.3 Performance of People in Positions of Responsibility

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/633.htm)

The acceptability of governance depends on the performance of individuals at each level of subsidiarity.  A political system can only perform as well as its politicians; and even if public services are well-designed and adequately-funded they might be a source of dissatisfaction if their employees are incompetent or discourteous.

As described at the start of this chapter (6.1.2), politicians act as intermediaries between the population and public servants.  They have to respond to the public’s wishes, take responsible decisions and take management responsibility for the performance of public servants and employees of institutions.

To illustrate the importance of politicians’ performance, it is worth examining the consequences of failure.  A glaring example occurred during the two years following Britain’s 2016 vote to leave the EU: the UK politicians failed to reach agreement on how to enact the will of the people, resulting in a humiliating plea for more time – as described in a BBC report, Brexit delay: How can Article 50 be extended?.  The Hansard report, Audit of Political Engagement 16, showed that the result of this failure was a dramatic reduction in public confidence in politicians.

That failure also paved the way for authoritarian populism (6.3.2.6).  Of those surveyed, “54% say Britain needs a strong leader who is willing to break the rules” and “42% think many of the country’s problems could be dealt with more effectively if the government didn’t have to worry so much about votes in Parliament”.

The performance of politicians is examined here; later sections in this chapter examine the question of whether members of the public can have their interests effectively represented by politicians (6.5.1), and discuss necessary safeguards for how the latter are appointed (6.8.2).  The following sub-sections highlight several aspects of politicians’ performance which are necessary for them to do a good job:

  • Politicians should listen to those they serve and be responsive (6.3.3.1).
  • They should be administratively competent, personally and in their choice of advisers (6.3.3.2).
  • They should act with integrity (6.3.3.3).
  • They should have a focus on public service (6.3.3.4).
  • They are accountable for the performance of the institutions for which they are responsible (6.3.3.5).
  • They must be able to communicate clearly and persuasively (6.3.3.6).

It is always possible for someone to perform poorly, even in the best-designed political system.  Politicians should be held to account for failure to serve the public well, as described at the end of this chapter (6.8.5.2).

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