The Decline of UK Politics
I’ve written this post from the perspective of politics in the UK but I daresay that some of the points are relevant to other Western countries. Please note that this is not a post advocating any particular political stance or ideology. It is a commentary about the system itself and the public’s current relationship with the world of politics per se.
Two party politics has dominated the UK for over two hundred years and the electoral system that has evolved reflects that. The first past the post system has major shortcomings when dealing with emerging parties and diverse voting patterns. In recent years the traditional parties have seen a decline in membership and they no longer enjoy the levels of support with the UK electorate that they did fifty years ago. My parents grew up in a culture of tribal politics, driven by class, wealth and left wing and right wing ideologies. I personally think the notion that a single party can adequately represent all my political, philosophical and ethical needs is risible. Therefore I have no specific party allegiance or cleave to a particular political school of thought. I am a floating voter when it comes to both local and national elections.
Although politics is a deeply divisive and problematic subject to discuss, a fully functioning democracy requires a politically literate and engaged population. Sadly that is not the case at present. Political debate, national policies and our entire approach to the subject has deteriorated in my lifetime. Politicians are viewed cynically by the overall population and often for legitimate reasons. Parties no longer seem to be driven by any credible ideologies or dogma. Major issues are seldom addressed and often kicked into the proverbial long grass. Furthermore the media exults political discourse of the lowest common dominator. Meaningful and civilised debate is virtually non-existence. Consequently large swathes of the population are no longer interested in politics. Many of those that profess to be so, are ill informed and have no idea how to discuss their views in a viable manner.
It is ironic that in an age when virtually anyone has access to tools that allow them to express an opinion and engage with others, that the level of debate has so notably declined. We live in a binary world in which opposing views are not countered by facts and data but are merely shouted down. In seems that many who live in our democracy seem to eschew its universal applicability. Tolerance, politely begging to differ and simple common sense are scarce commodities these days. Furthermore the UK has slowly since the sixties assimilated US style politics, which chooses to focus on the cult of personality rather than issues. Electoral pledges and longstanding policies are replaced with soundbites. It’s no longer about advocating what your party can offer but sowing the seeds of fear about the opposition. Last year’s general election result effectively came down to floating voters deciding at the last minute based on who they feared the most with regard to running the economy.
This malady affects politics at every level. From the comments section of any news website, to local government, right the way up to Parliament itself. I recently attended several council meetings regarding a local issue and was shocked by the lack of decorum and the subpar debating skills of the councillors. Straw man arguments and ad hominem attacks were rife and the quality of the meeting was very poor. Few had any concept of public speaking or debating skills. Yet this approach to politics is endemic at present and I fear it will be the driving factor behind the forthcoming Europe referendum. I would like to see detailed arguments from both sides of the debate, backed up with facts and data. Whether the UK remains part of the EU is an extremely complex matter with major ramifications. Surely the public needs to be provided with robust information before an opinion can be formed or decided upon. Sadly the debate will be driven by fear and some perfunctory soundbites. It is deeply worrying that a decision of this magnitude will be decided upon in such an arbitrary manner.
The most depressing thing for me about the state of contemporary UK politics is the feeling that my vote carries no weight and is of little consequence. I believe this is a contributory reason why a third of the UK’s 45,000,000 registered voters do not bother to cast a vote. Let us not forget that there is a further 6,000,000 people who are entitled to vote but have not registered. Thus we have elected government implementing policies with nowhere near a convincing mandate. The current administration is in power after successfully polling about a quarter of the electorate. Again due to the failings of the current voting system other parties gained over 4,000,000 votes yet only secured one seat in Parliament. Unless you live in a marginal seat that can potentially swing between parties, then your vote has no impact upon political change.
I am also not comfortable with the blanket demonization of all politicians, journalists and pundits. Although many are of a poor standard there are still those that seem motivated for the right reasons. During my career I’ve met many on both sides of the political divide that I admire. However they are often hamstrung by the system they work within and the fact that they are often dealing against groups with powerful vested interests. The net result is that those of worth and character frequently go unnoticed on a national level. Plus the unsophisticated rhetoric of the current political arena means that we seldom get beyond “Tory scum”, “bleeding heart liberal” and “Champagne Socialist”. Such hyperbolic language stifles any discussion and further muddies the waters. The opinion of those that use such jargon is seldom informed.
What I would like to see emerge from the current status quo would be a new voting system based upon some form of proportional representation. I would also like to see new parties emerge as well as far more independent candidates, especially at local level. There is a need for policies born out of intelligent debate from all quarters, rather than thought up be biased think tanks. Politicians need to create a new covenant with the electorate and validate it by their deeds. However I am fully aware that this is all highly unlikely. Society seems to be regressing at present, as the divide between rich and poor increases and tolerance, informed opinion and a wider world view are largely in decline. I can if pressed fall back up a personal position of “I’m alright Jack” but many can’t. Also I don’t want to have to adopt such a self-centred and isolationist mentality.
As I stated at the start, I do not consider this post to be a political statement in support of a particular party or group. I merely see it as a summary of the perceived failing of our current political system. It is of course based upon my own personal perspective. I’m sure that those that enjoy power would see it quite differently. However we are far from a golden age of national politics and are not necessarily a nation driven by common ideals and values anymore. The good of the country seems to have been supplanted by the needs and desires of the individual. None of this is good for the UK. A healthy democracy needs a government that is seen to respond the wishes of its people. There is also a need for a robust opposition and debate. None of this is possible if the majority of the electorate are political disengaged. If this situation is not addressed then the future consequences could be dire.