Do you have to be ruthless to be a successful politician?

If you ever stop to think about the characteristics needed to become a successful politician, ruthlessness surely has to feature. Even well-respected politicians who ooze charisma and charm in front of the cameras probably did not get to the top by playing fair and being honest all the time. Those who are at the top of their game have got there by doing deals, playing people off against each other, discovering their opponents’ weaknesses and exploiting them, whilst never actually getting their hands dirty. They surround themselves with cronies, but have no qualms about dumping supporters when they become a liability.

It has always been the case that only those with a ruthless streak could survive in the murky world of politics. Principles rarely came into it, just as it is today. A politician can appear on television professing his support for one policy initiative and, then, a couple of week’s later state that he is of completely the opposite opinion, without even batting an eyelid. He won’t even feel the need to explain his volte-face – the chances are he will simply pretend it never even happened. Politicians supposedly represent the interests of their constituents, yet when such incidents happen it is clear that the majority of politicians are more concerned about their own careers.

Those at the bottom of the political pile – perhaps those working in local government or working as a governmental aide – want to make a good impression and so they will say whatever they need to get themselves recognized as politician material. Their actual experience and skills seem to count for little, since more importance is placed on their connections and their ability to network. If they can get on the right side of influential people, they at least have a chance. Indeed, it seems that over the past few decades, the political class has increasingly come to be made up of ambitious opportunists rather than anyone desirous of actually changing society for the better.

Of course, with these kinds of people getting into government, ruthlessness always takes over. Instead of passing legislation which could benefit the country, it is all about point scoring and getting one-over on the opposition. The politicians with a flair for humiliating their opponents without coming across as ruthless and ambitious are generally the ones who succeed. They have a way of presenting themselves that seems to suggest they are only interested in the good of the country, when the reality of the situation is that they enjoy power and wouldn’t mind some more of it and will, consequently, do anything they can to hold on to it.

What is evident is that even the few principled politicians that do exist are unlikely to achieve success in their political career without a degree of ruthlessness and, unfortunately, the amount of success a politician has in his career seems to correspond with just how ruthless he is prepared to be, rather than his actual aptitude for the job.


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