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Between perception and reality.

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 26 February 2014
On Monday, the Minister for Government Policy came to visit HorseBack UK, the charity for which I work. The whole thing was a great success. As the shouting about Scottish independence grew more raucous, here, in this quiet blue stretch of Deeside, under the benign gaze of the hills, a politician was doing something practical, on the ground.

It was a fascinating reminder of the perception gap. There is the famous old saw that when the public is asked about politicians as a class or government as a whole, it grinds its teeth and tears its hair and rends its shirts, despairing of the whole shower. The very idea of the Whitehall bubble makes people want to throw heavy objects. When they are asked about their own constituency MP, they are often full of praise. She actually got the council to do something about the potholes; he sorted out my benefits muddle. The approval difference in percentage terms, between the individual and the generality, is consistently wide.

With Peopleton Brook, the ex-sprinter who is starting a new life at HorseBack UK.With Peopleton Brook, the ex-sprinter who is starting a new life at HorseBack UK.

The Minister, Oliver Letwin, was absolutely charming. He was quick, intelligent and polite. He got the point at once. He asked all the right questions. He was self-deprecating, making jokes at his own expense. It is not only politicians who have a bad reputation; the civil service is not much better. But his civil servant was delightful too: thoughtful, courteous, and clearly blindingly clever. For one morning, it was just two human beings, who happened to stalk the corridors of power, with a bunch of other human beings and some lovely equines, in the Scottish mud. Everyone stomped about in gumboots and looked hopefully at the sky, where the sun was struggling through the clouds.

Those men, I thought, will have to drive away and go back to the battlefield, where they must wrangle with impossible policy decisions and take flak from the papers and the opposition and every single keyboard warrior who has an opinion, which seems to be pretty much everyone, just now.

In the good old Scottish mud.In the good old Scottish mud.

Of course politicians have to take it. It is right that they do. Their decisions affect actual people in the actual world. They sometimes get it catastrophically wrong, and must be held to account. But I sometimes wonder whether the blanket condemnation and the endless tribalism help anything. The kneejerk negativity may not have much utility, and I am all about utility. Whatever the rights or wrongs, it was oddly pleasurable to see someone step off the public stage, out of the general herd, and just be a person. It might sound an odd thing to say, but I think it is often forgotten that politicians are people too. They have families and friends, hopes and dreams, griefs and joys. I admit it might help if they answered the question and did not speak jargon or hide behind weasel words, as some of them do. But they are as real as you and I are.

In which HorseBack UK has an important visitor

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley has not set their biography yet
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on Wednesday, 20 February 2013
Yesterday, I met the Secretary of State for Scotland. I must admit, I was really thrilled.

It’s a most gauche and unfashionable reaction, but I’ve always held the idea that most politicians are pretty decent, at heart. Of course there are some knaves and fools; of course there are some who cause one to throw heavy objects every time you hear the maddening voice on the Today programme, not answering the question, or talking in robotic soundbites. But there are knaves and fools in every profession; it’s just that one usually does not see them on the Ten O’Clock news.

I genuinely think that most people who go into politics do it because they have a desire to do something of use. Everyone bleats about too much Oxbridge, but a lot of the parliamentarians could have taken those fancy degrees and parleyed them into seven figure salaries in banking or big Pharma or the kind of accountancy that salts away company cash in the Cayman Islands. I rather admire the fact that they chose public service instead.

I’m also riveted by the kind of people who get to high office. I’m not just a politics geek, but a bit of psychology nerd too. It takes a very particular mind-set to climb that greasy pole, and I am fascinated to see it close to.

Michael Moore, it turned out, was rather impressive, highly intelligent, and keenly focused. When I say I met the Secretary of State, it was only the briefest of handshakes and a couple of words. He was visiting HorseBack UK, the charity for whom I volunteer, and I was there in my capacity as their recorder-in-chief. I stumped around in my muddy boots, as the grave man in the suit was shown the facilities and all the marvellous work they do there. (I had attempted to get the worst of the horse off my outdoor coat, but it was rather a losing battle.)

He did not showboat about, or attempt to ingratiate with spurious charm. He was there for a serious purpose, and he got the job done with politeness and efficiency. One of the things that interests me about HorseBack is that whilst they have a very practical programme for the rehabilitation of wounded servicemen and women, carefully planned and thought out, there is a nebulous, extra factor in their work, which cannot be recorded in clinical terms. It is partly to do with the fact that the injured work with horses there, and there is something about a horse that touches the places that no amount of pills or therapy can. It is also to do with the fact that HorseBack lies in one of the most ravishing natural landscapes in Britain. It can be slightly astonishing to hear a tough warrior talk, almost lyrically, of the part these rolling hills play in the long road to recovery.

For all that the Secretary was purposeful and businesslike, he absolutely got the thing about the beauty. He mentioned it more than once. It did help that after weeks of skies the colour of old socks, Scotland pulled her sunniest, most dazzling day out of the bag for him. The great lighting director in the sky was on golden time. But still, I was quite surprised. I liked him very much for that.

The visit was a huge success and it will make a big difference to a small but brilliant operation. Politician does decent thing for Good Cause will not make any headlines. All the same, it was a headline for me.

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