The Extremism of Being Nice

The nice people – and I include you and I in that category – are we the ones who have got it wrong? Are we the extremists? Are we, in fact – to quote comedians Mitchell and Webb – the baddies? 

After all, there must be a reason why nice people don’t end up as Prime Minister. 

Throughout history, the people have complained about those running their countries. It is a national pastime. It feels natural, a bit like commenting on how rubbish the weather is.  

That default position of finding something (anything) to moan about is perhaps why I find it strangely unnerving to see ordinary people expressing their admiration for the Prime Minister. Obviously, there are many reasons as to why someone will don a t-shirt imprinted with their leader’s face and wave similarly emblazoned flags during an election campaign, but if that person isn’t going to directly benefit (financially or politically) from supplying their support it always comes across as awkward and, frankly, cringeworthy. 

We – the little people – shouldn’t really be behaving in such a deferential and demeaning manner.  Especially not towards a Prime Minister. Not for the sort of person whose balance of personality traits are invariably tipped towards a worrying unsuitability. 

If this is the case, then why do we keep on getting Prime Ministers that it is so easy to complain about? Why do we keep on getting politicians that aren’t nice? Like us? 

Is it the fault of the system? In the UK, the ‘First Past the Post’ (FPTP) election system is often regarded as a moderating factor. It is a sensible check on extremism, preventing the electorate from doing anything too foolish or dangerous. It makes it difficult for anyone from the extremes of the political spectrum to enter parliament, and if they do, then the adversarial system, traditionally dominated by two large parties, presents an insurmountable barrier to such radical extremists from moving too far up the ladder. 

The Westminster model, it is argued, prevents the rise of dictators, for whom the political system has often been the tool used to gain power. Only once their position is secure can that system be ignored or disposed of. 

However, at the same time, is it the same FPTP system that determines that only people willing to win at all costs reach the corridors of power? 

Does it prevent nice people from ever becoming leaders? And, if so, is being nice a form of extremism that a nation, as a whole, does not approve of? 

But, I hear you say, nice people – people like us – we don’t want to be in power! That’s nonsense and you know it (go on, be honest: how often have you thought you could do a better job than the person currently in the position?)  

Nice people – like us – we wouldn’t be very good at it, would we? How do we know? 

The very fact that we are nice, that we worry about a myriad of things, that we are aware of our weaknesses (conveniently and self-effacingly overlooking our strengths), that we know that being Prime Minister is a thankless job: all of these reasons and countless others, are more than enough to make us realise that we would never want to start the long and gruelling process of trying to reach the top of that particular tree. 

But, on the other hand, it could be argued that our desire to want a quiet life, to not get embroiled in the back-stabbing and scheming, to be polite and helpful and kind – in other words, to remain nice – surely makes any one of us a better candidate for leading our country? 

In this series of posts, I will be looking at what being “nice” really means and whether there is any overlap between this and what we expect from a Prime Minister. 

I will also investigate whether the political system used in this country has any bearing on the quality of leadership that emerges. This goes hand in hand with the concept of “power corrupting” and I will be searching for examples where “good” people have gone “bad” once in power and to see whether it was inevitable or the result of circumstance. 

Finally, I will be trying to work out if nice people could ever get to lead the country and, if so, whether such a situation could ever be regarded as successful.