Puppet or leader? Generally, most politicians are one or the other, and it is very much a matter of taste which you prefer to have in office.
By puppet, I mean that many candidates are put up by their backers to be mouthpieces for their backers' views. In the Jersey context I mostly concern myself with, that usually means cronyism amongst lawyers, accountants and those businessmen who move in the same social circles. You may have a superficial democratic choice between, for instance, the Freemason, the yachtsman and the United Club regular, but they all sing off the same sheet when it comes down to it. Once in a while, they may give a personal hobby-horse a little push, but mostly they are there to make up the numbers to vote the way the real leaders order.
A different slant on puppet politicians is that of left-wing parties and factions. In the name of expressing the will of the people, or bottom-up democracy, their politicians are expected to push the policies and cast the votes that their backers have themselves voted to instruct them to.
You may have guessed, from my choice of the pejorative term “puppet”, that, despite being an avowed democrat, and a left-winger by Jersey's skewed standards, I am none too keen on this model of representation, myself. I see two big flaws: Firstly, a matter of principle. The real decisions this type of politician implements are made by others behind them, unchosen by the public vote. This seems profoundly undemocratic to me. Secondly, the practical consequence is that the parliamentary process is completely vitiated if any significant number of members are turning up under previous orders to vote a particular way. Ben Shenton has already claimed that the debates no longer matter, because everything has been sewn up behind closed doors. The more that members are mandated by their backers, the worse this problem becomes.
Reading and listening to the news and the odd opinion piece may give us all a few shallow ideas about what is going on and what should be done. The purpose of a professional political class, though, is to read the reports and listen to the debates on behalf of those of us who haven't the time, and make better informed judgements than we can for ourselves. Asking people to read, listen, think and decide for us is a far bigger task than just asking them to do what we tell them, so we must choose who carefully to make it work. There are Members of the States of Jersey who do work in this way of course, although, unfortunately, too many of them seem to end up as backbenchers rather than ministers.
The other kind of politician is the leader. Instead of being a front for others, they recruit supporters to give backing to their principles and judgement. This can easily end in tears, as history, and even current affairs, are full of examples of unsavoury dictators finding the wrong kind of supporters to impose the wrong kind of ideas on the rest of their nation. However, it is also the only way to have a properly valid public mandate in a functional democracy. If more people have said “I trust you best to make the calls.” than did so for anyone else, then you can get on with the job without serious challenge.
The really perplexing scenario would be for the candidates with the best manifestos to be pledged to dance to party tunes and those with minds of their own all to be hellbent on paddling us further up the creek. Then it would be really hard to choose. I think I would go for the best manifesto, but I would not really have a lot of confidence in their personal ability, if they needed others in the shadows to tell them what to do.
The big problem with pre-mandated politicians is that, instead of them making their decisions on the strength of the facts in the detailed reports, and the arguments made in public parliamentary debate, their decisions are made for them by amateurs who don't have have the time to study all the facts, on the strength of news reports, gossip, prejudice and caprice, without any effective scrutiny or input by the voting public at large. This may well be commonplace reality, but it is also a failure of democratic principle, not an expression of it.
To summarise; although other ways can and do exist, the optimum model for party politics is for the parties to get behind their leaders, not to put them up as front men. Party hacks are even less desirable than chaotic independents.
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