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.
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.
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.