Thursday, May 29, 2014

The politics of disengagement

I gave up on party politics a long time ago. There seemed to be little impact that any individual could bring upon the major parties. Unless you were a major organisation or a rich benefactor your voice would be lost in the mass. The only time politicians and political parties have any need to listen is when they want your vote and even then, unless you live in a marginal constituency, don’t expect them to put in too much effort.

Voting in elections seems to many to be a similar waste of time and effort. It is one way to send a message though and that is what a minority (of a minority) achieved in last week’s council and European polls. The real statistic, as ever, was that the large majority (66%) of UK registered voters preferred not to bother.
Well done for that vote of apathy. You’ve collaborated in giving ‘power’ to a single-issue party into positions where they can have no influence on that particular issue. They’ll sit and collect the very privileges they claim to oppose whilst doing very little – based on previous evidence. All it has ensured is that the next twelve months of electioneering will be focussed on the EU and immigration, issues which impact upon a tiny minority rather than education, the economy, welfare and the NHS which matter to us all.


Politics has a large effect on our lives but we prefer not to engage with it. Or we limit such engagement to random discussions, clicking ‘like’ and sharing other people’s Facebook posts to manifest our views or opinions. We have largely bought into the politics of personality, as if we were electing a president rather than a disparate bunch of white men who are meant to represent our interests. This is the very reason that Ed Milliband is unlikely to win any election. He may be supremely-intelligent and have great integrity but he doesn’t project it too well. Frankly he’s a charisma-free drone and being charming is essential to your credibility with a voting audience. We’re not really listening are we?
The proliferation of social and soundbite media means we are living in an age of disengagement. This is a time of call and response, we’re prodded and we react but everything has to be black and white, yes or no, right or wrong. The impact of this upon politics is that we no longer have debate. Without such debate how can we be reasonably expected to know enough detail to make important decisions on what we consider to be right or wrong? We hear conflicting opinion on membership of the EU, we sadly don’t hear enough detail, certainly not enough to have a referendum. Trust in politicians is at an all-time low, it’ll never grow while they continue to be evasive on key issues or use grandstanding and soundbites to further their cause without elaboration.

It’s a few years old now but the clip below where Ed answers different questions with the same carefully scripted soundbite over and over again is the very epitome of this issue. Politicians have only contempt for us, how can we expect them to engage or involve us? The awful fact is that by ceasing to engage (certainly in our previously available opportunity) we allow terrible things to happen, like political parties full of racist buffoons somehow gaining credibility.
We are alienated from the political class, they don’t understand us because they don’t take the time to try. They don’t have our background and can only rely upon research to try and inform them. As a result we’re not governed by politicians with clear strategies and beliefs but by focus groups that collectively push the politicians in the directions they think will prove most popular to the mass. The popular media distort the argument and twist the agenda into one that suits them best – either a simple one with opinion-grabbing, click-baiting headlines or something more sinister appealing to a prejudiced minority, one that may or not be influenced by owners or advertisers.

Afraid of inflaming the reactionaries or looking too different from the norm everyone crowds into the centre, the three major parties are the party political equivalent of elevator muzak, it’s all around us but no-one really wants to listen.
What will it take to get us back ‘on board’, to motivate us to try and exercise our democratic right? Suzanne Moore has a 12 point plan but it’s no short-term fix. Owen Jones feels that parties (particularly Labour) need to engage with the bigger picture, embody the slogan of hope not hate and give us something to aspire to. He’s invariably right but they could start by just treating us like adults and giving us some truth whilst also trying to engage us emotionally and intellectually. Is it too much to ask?



 

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