The science vs the art, of politics

In my post on the absence of “real life” politicians I highlighted the need for the era of professional politicians to gain professional skills.

An excellent article in The Age, by Troy Bramston, has echoed these sentiments. He claims that;

Politicians focus on the science of politics, “the discovery of what to do,” but neglect the art of politics, which is the “practice of how and when to do these things.” Without mastering both, nothing of lasting value can be achieved.

He argues that modern politicians are experts in the science of politics but not the art:

They are expert in using scientific tools such as focus groups and opinion polls. Some are adept at parliamentary procedure. They can write political advertisements, spin the media and carry out routine campaign functions and the basic administration of government.

I’m going to have to disagree with that. I think he mistakes professional era politicians practicing these skills with being well versed in them.

Troy thinks the problem is that they lack:

a talent for the art of politics. This includes building consensus and understanding the importance of compromise. Being able to interpret public opinion and lead it with spirited advocacy. Knowing how to grease the wheels of government to work in their favour. Having a capacity for the hard slog of policy development and consultation. Leaders who are prepared to take risks and champion a long-term agenda. Or possess the gift of oratory, able to give an inspiring speech or an interesting interview.

I’m not quite sure of the nature of the ‘art’. I think Bramston is right about the hard slog and skill in relationships. But it’s also about purpose. Politicians with those skills need to be motivated by a particular purpose to put them into action. When the ‘science’ is learned on the job, there doesn’t seem to be room for an original of self-defined purpose.

Bramston thinks that the lack of purpose is why politicians who seem to skilled in the science, lack connection with the public.

It is not surprising that 72 per cent of voters would not return Julia Gillard’s government if an election were held now. Or that Tony Abbott has a -31 per cent net approval rating or that Gillard has a -33 per cent net approval rating. Politics seems devoid of purpose. Integrity and intelligence are in short supply, and courage and imagination have been lost. Major policy challenges are ignored, or if they are tackled, the solutions are hamstrung by being either deeply flawed, badly implemented or lacking public support. It is why most voters are disengaged and disillusioned with politics. Why party membership is in long-term decline.

I think this is a little comparable to the woes of organisations without product that means anything deep to people. You can have all the skills of marketing and positioning, but unless you’re passionate about the product you deliver, and people want it deeply, you’re just filling time.

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