Heroes to Zeros - Portrayal of People in Public Life

Issued: Sun, 22 Oct 2017 00:00:00 BST

Festival of Politics 2017 logoThe John Smith Centre was delighted to take part in the Festival of Politics 2017 by presenting a panel discussion at the Scottish Parliament on 21 October on the portrayal of people in public life.

“Heroes to Zeros” was chaired by David Dinsmore, Chief Operating Officer of News UK and former editor of the Sun newspaper, and featured a keynote speech by Stella Creasy MP for Walthamstow who was targeted by “Twitter trolls” after backing a campaign in 2013 to put Jane Austen on the £10 note.‌

They were joined on the panel by Scottish Transport Minister and Minister f‌or the Islands Humza Yousaf MSP, and Paul Sinclair, journalist and former special advisor.

Opening the discussion, David Dinsmore posed the critical questions:

“How tough is it to hold public office in 2017?  Has the media revolution of the new millennium changed the dynamics of our democracy for better or worse?  And do we actually have an environment in which we can grow the statesmen and women of sufficient stature to create a vision for our country over the next decades?  In other words, do you have to be mad, bad or sad to join the political classes?”

He provoked excellent contributions from the panellists who shared their personal stories as well as their optimism for the future. During a lively discussion involving the audience, the panel were frank about how difficult it can be to be in public service today, in terms of social media in particular, but ultimately the two elected politicians said they would encourage others to enter politics – there was no better way to effect change.

Stella Creasy delivered an arresting and fascinating analysis of how citizens needed to step up themselves and help MPs to help them: we are all good at identifying a problem, and the villain, she argued, but people need to work with politicians to suggest concrete actions help find solutions.

Catherine Smith, chair of the John Smith Centre management board and the youngest daughter of John Smith, said: “Our mission to challenge modern perceptions of politicians has never been more urgent. It begins with ensuring people are prepared to step up and serve. Never before has that seemed more daunting – tonight’s event was invaluable in interrogating why and discussing how we can deal with it.”