It’s election day 2015. Politicians are, depending on the colours of their allegiance, either about to start weeping into their espresso or taking a pull on another celebratory pint of bitter. In the European elections last year, Marine Le Pen’s Front National topped a nationwide poll for the first time ever. The UK front pages nearly all carried photos of Nigel Farage with a grin as wide as the channel tunnel. The political establishment had its arse very firmly kicked.
David Cameron said that voters are “disillusioned” with the EU. A Lib Dem commentator said that Nick Clegg needs to quit because voters are no longer prepared to listen to him. I fear they’re deluding themselves. This wasn’t about the EU or Cleggy, this was about people’s view of politics and politicians. It’s also, fundamentally, about who’s talking and who’s listening. Who’s talking? Who’s listening? The 36% UK turnout tells its own story.
People are giving up on conventional democracy because ticking a box once every few years doesn’t really constitute a conversation between equals. And that’s what they get in most other areas of their lives. Only the way they’re governed (and, less so, the way they’re employed) is still so autocratic. Politicians aren’t talking about what voters are interested in and voters aren’t interested in what politicians are talking about. And when people do talk, politicians don’t listen. Letters get batted back with delegated, form answers and the real questions unanswered. The results of consultations seem pre-decided. Protests are increasingly ignored. Traditional politicians are becoming an irrelevance As a consequence, politicians are becoming an irrelevance. We don’t really need elected representatives. We are now better informed, educated and connected thanks to the internet. Direct local democracy is possible and indeed, becoming more common. People can contact their local representatives, take part in consultations and lobby as never before. But their participation is still very much for form’s sake and, because of that, only a minority take part. Worse, most politicians seem to either fear or ignore this participation. We’ve moved on in so many other areas. We choose our own direct, fragmented media, the news we read, the subjects we engage with, the style of reporting we want. Why shouldn’t we do the same with politics? Labour, LibDems, Conservatives – even UKIP – are becoming as irrelevant and archaic as just four channels of terrestrial television. Pre-internet politics in a post-internet world Democracy still consists of a pre-internet model where a few groups of people give pre-determined answers to a set of vague, general questions and ask people to elect them on that basis. Doesn’t it make more sense to ask the people the real, live questions directly and let them answer? If we don’t begin to do this and educate the electorate (that’s all of us) to do so, ‘four channel’ party politics will continue down its slope to irrelevance. If people believed their vote might actually affect their lives, we’d start to see people becoming engaged in politics. Wouldn’t it be splendid to see Pericles’ quote turned around – “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”
So get out there and vote. We’re not going to change anything from outside the room.