“[A Prince] must strive to make everyone recognise in his actions greatness, spirit, dignity and strength” Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince.
A much lamented aspect of politics is the seeming obsession with ‘spin’, the desire of politicians to receive good publicity, both for themselves personally and for their actions. In recent years we have seen such indignities as spin doctors trying to launch vicious and untrue smear campaigns against their opponents, and in one case hounding an honest man to his death. Would politics not be better if less attention was paid to public relations, and politicians simply got on with the job of governing?
No, not really.
To understand why, you must appreciate that politics is about much more than the management of various government agencies. When we go and vote, we are not simply selecting the people who we think will give us value for our tax money. We are choosing our leaders. This means we must think about what we mean by leadership if we want to understand what we mean by politics.
Leadership is not something which can be done to people. It is about having a clear idea of what you want a group of people to do, then persuading them to share this vision and work with you to achieve it. To take a modern example, the last Labour government wanted to reform the school system by introducing a new type of school which would drive up educational standards. To do this they needed to convince new managers to open the new schools, teachers to work in them and parents to send their children to them. This act of persuasion required constant communication with all the various interested parties to keep them on board, and to explain why opponents of the scheme were wrong. Without this communication, the reform would have been impossible.
All political systems are dependent in some way on the process of constant communication between leaders and those they govern. Totalitarian regimes spend an inordinate amount of energy convincing their victims of the rightness of their leaders. That is the purpose of huge fascistic rallies and imposing military parades. The point here is obviously not that the use of spin is totalitarian, but that all leadership, and by extension all politics, is dependent on communication. The totalitarian examples show how the process can be used to corrupt and oppress. Perhaps I should leave you with an example of spin being used for something good.