Here’s an interesting perspective from Chris K who has lived some years in UK, Germany to appreciate the finer workings of a functioning democracy.
“No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond first contact with the main hostile force” sagely said the famous Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke. Or commonly paraphrased; “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy”.
Potential future PM Chan Chun Sing, despite a former Major-General, seems to have forgotten this most important aspect of general-ship when he launched an offensive at the SDP’s Chee Soon Juan, not planning on receiving the social media blowback. That the minister, given to warlike Churchill copycat exhortations of “doing battle everywhere necessary” felt the need to argue and rebut a “political failure” which not only gave prominence to that “political failure” but also pointed to his own less than solid electoral credentials underlined von Moltke’s dictum.
But there was more. National Development Minister of State Desmond Lee fired a broadside at AHPETC, only to be found to be a pot calling the kettle black when it is not even certain the kettle is even black. Let’s not mention the rats.
What is political talent?
A military scholar bureau-technocrat (the writer finds himself unable to call him military leader) and a legal professional. First term MPs riding the bandwagon of an ex PM and a DPM. Yet both immediately propelled to full minister and minister of state. No private sector company bet that much money on the unproven but not the PAP betting taxpayers’ money their technocratic talent automatically becomes political talent, even PM one day.
Political talent is the ability to understand the motivations, aspirations and concerns of voters. Then to craft the right policies which meet expectations and lessen disappointments. That talent needs to stand firm and yet adapt to criticism and be able to persuade voters. No easy task but it gets harder. Financial resources need to be found and allocated among competing demands to fund those policies and yet be prudent. It requires real political talent for such a delicate balancing act. By comparison, the technocratic stuff about policy optimal feasibility, KPIs and the likes are a walk in the park. One can even learn it in university.
Policy-making in cognitive delusions
Political talent cannot really be tested and proven when the GRC fast tracked would-be ministerial talents with convenience of a lopsided democratic process and without the inconvenience of having to develop and burnish their political credentials.
There lies the rub. There can be no connection with the masses without competition whether that is from the opposition, the media, an active citizenry or simply fighting for one’s very own seat. There can be no political talent without connection to the masses. There can only be the easily acquired taste for entitlement.
Formulating strategies and policies among the like-minded, in the comfort of a super-majority and without necessary checks and balances is a self-perpetuating cognitive delusion, not least when assumptions are self-validated by an ever-helpful MSM, a lack of vigorous Parliamentary debate and a penchant to hear only what they wish to hear. It is then not such a surprise that policies and solutions to social conundrums are no Hard Truths but Easy Ways Out with citizens having to pay up for one thing or another, or throwing more bodies at the economy.
50 years of political dominance may have entrenched the PAP in power but the citizens increasingly recognise they are ruled by disconnected politicians.
PMO Minister Grace Fu bemoaning a reduction of her fabulous salary with nary a thought she sounded ridiculous to the toiling masses. Minister of State and MP for Sengkang Dr Lam Pin Min found waffling in front of resident-voters. Social media leak stories of MPs who were neither able to defend nor articulate government policies. First term MP-ministers’ unseemly haste to score brownie points smacks more of political ineptitude and naivety than future Prime Ministerial potential.
Stick those spurs
Von Moltke’s famous dictum may refer to the uncertainty of the enemy’s reaction but it warns us that the best laid plans may not survive the test of reality. In politics, that reality is the everyday life of the voter and a hardening of attitudes against disconnected governance.
A prime minister unused to that hardening of attitudes may delude himself with the need to fix the opposition so that he need not “solve the problem of this week and forget the challenges of next year”. But in that separated sphere of wealth and technocratic excellence without the need for the political talent of connecting with the masses, he and his colleagues are overly comfortable in their old ways. In sheer irony, it is they who need those spurs stuck in their hides.
One-party political dominance is a bad idea even for the PAP.
* Chris is a retired executive director in the financial industry who had worked mostly in London and Tokyo. He writes opinions and commentaries on economic and financial matters.