In a week of political misery, I've seen a chink of light, and it was in Ghent.
For the last couple of weeks the Artevelde University in Ghent has played host to an intensive European Erasmus course with a handful of Europe's universities including my own at Greenwich, and 60 of Europe's finest would-be lobbyists and communicators. These Masters students will be the future. And we should be thankful for them.
Political malaise is a major and growing problem. Just in the last week in the UK we've seen another party funding scandal at the heart of the Government with donors being offered £250,000 dinners with the Prime Minister, and interventions from a senior Cabinet Minister on the fuel 'crisis' that smacks of cynical politicking. Events such as these feed political disenchantment and make it ever harder to bridge the yawning divide between voters and politicians of any colour.
Ironically, at a time where modern politics has become all about following voters rather than leading, the latest YouGov poll shows the voters simply feel more distant from politics. Already six million people who are eligible to vote don't, according to the Electoral Commission.
So, the strategy of following the votes doesn't seem to be working too well. All we've managed to do is create a political class ever more distant from the public, a class that lacks vision, and that is fatally unable to step up to the plate when we most need them to do so.
Marx had it well: "these are my principles. And if you don't like them, I have others." (Yes, Groucho not Karl. Who quotes Karl these days?)
The students on the Erasmus are cut from different cloth. They were treated to real-time insights on lobbying. Alongside theoretical approaches, they heard from a series of insiders on the reality of lobbying in Brussels and member states, on crisis management in a government body in Portugal, on public affairs and communications strategies at the heart of the banking and finance industry.
Yes, these students were interested to hear about the horse-trading, it was fascinating. It was heartening that the speakers showed how often the right decision is reached, but what they also showed is that the process stinks. The students rose above this. This wasn't enough. They reminded us of something that our political classes seem to have forgotten - the duty to the public sphere, and to the wider public interest.
Are these simply the happy ideals of youth, destined to be sloughed off with age? I like to think not. I started my public affairs career working with another bunch of young people, who couldn't be more different to the students in front of me. Those men had been at the heart of making the Labour Party electable in the 1980s and 1990s. They helped get rid of militant tendency. Those men were political lobbyists second to none, and their achievement was remarkable. But it indelibly marked them.
Here was their dilemma: they knew the central importance of winning, but it so defined them that they could not see anything other than the winning.
The UK is a particular sufferer of this problem as each of the mainstream parties has spent a long period in the wilderness before electoral success. Each European country has its own flavour of political misery - whether corruption, crony politics, or showbusiness monstrosities.
So, in a gloomy political time, it is refreshing to see that there might, eventually, be another way. If anyone can reinvigorate European politics, perhaps even the European project, I suspect it might be these Masters students who came together for an Erasmus course in Ghent.
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