Our lives are affected by whoever governs. Basic rights of citizens cross all nations: the right to food, shelter, education, security and health care depend on the provision of resources to fund these needs.
The battle ground of election campaigns focuses on how to determine the quantum of rights matched to realistic or achievable resources. How do we determine the common good and how to bring about a just society? How do we devise a social contract between citizens and government, and whom can we trust to guarantee its success?
Liberal democracies, characterised by co-operative, consensual relationships among individuals and groups in society, need agreed and sustainable objectives to ensure the rights of citizens. We face a challenge to inform ourselves about the choices, policies and trustworthiness of our politicians. How we provide opportunities for all to flourish is the ongoing political challenge.
If we complain that politicians don't listen to us, we should also recognise that we too have an obligation to listen to politicians.
We rely principally on the media to interpret their proposals by meaningful analysis.
In the introduction to one of the seven leaders' debates during the election campaign, the interviewer characterised the political leaders as "chancers and charlatans". This ensured that the programme had more to do with showbiz than with serious political discourse. Mocking and denigrating those who step forward to lead society is anarchistic and does little to ensure that voters hear details of policies which are proposed to bring about a fairer society.
In contrast, one-to-one interviews with the leaders and the final three-leaders' debate did help to assess the leaders' proposals in more detailed analysis, and revealed much about the integrity of those who may lead the country in the future. Many, especially younger voters rely on social media, where commentary is instant, with every voice carrying equal weight, and details and consequences of policies are absent.
Media debates during the recent campaign, which were presumably designed to inform voters and highlight policy differences in parties, often descended into abusive shouting affairs with a great deal of heat and little light. At times the tone of these encounters was more reflective of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson's bombastic aggression, rather than serious analysis of different proposals to solve challenging and complex issues.
Often, it seemed the emphasis was on who had the smartest slogan, the quickest soundbite, the biggest goody bag, the most magic wand to solve the big societal issues of homelessness, health and climate change.
The idea of a social contract between citizens, individually and collectively, is as old as philosophy itself but became a concrete theory with Thomas Hobbes in the 17th century. He recognised that we are all self-interested, in pursuit of our own best interests and, at the same time, being rational beings, we realise that creating a civil society is in our own best interests. Hobbes believed we set aside some of our "wants" in favour of the good of all; if not, he predicted that chaos would prevail.
Liberal democratic systems are based on similar concepts. Democratic governments provide for human rights in an order of justice which is fair and transparent. Justice is contextual: distributing available resources entirely based on everyone receiving a similar share of resources does not necessarily lead to a just society. Individuals and communities need strategically designed programmes to provide them with opportunities to share and participate meaningfully in society. The value of our democracy is related to opportunities to enhance lives individually and in communities.
The basis of all sustainable relationships, whether between individuals in personal friendships, in the doctor-patient relationship or in the relationship between the citizen and the state, is based on trust. As a patient I trust that you, my doctor, are competent, honest and reliable.
These are the elements that Irish philosopher Onora O'Neill claims are the basis of trustworthiness. Trustworthiness is always a judgment, I trust you to have the skills to do the operation, I trust you to always tell me the truth, I trust you to be reliable. I may place my life, my treatment or surgery, in your hands because you exhibit competence, honesty and reliability derived from long years of training and experience. I may not trust you to fly an aeroplane, but I do trust you to do my operation; according to Professor O'Neill, trust is a judgment where competence, honesty and reliability are critical in assessing the trustworthiness of anyone, the same criteria should apply to political policies and those who articulate them. Worth reflecting on in the days and weeks ahead.