One box of soap, please. Hold the soap.
Let’s be clear from the outset. I HATE politics. I hate it, and the horse it rode in on. I am completely unbiased and impartial: I believe ALL the major political parties to be lying, unscrupulous, two-faced bastards. I believe they must be, in order to get where they are.
Let me explain.
I believe that if you study the effectiveness of any “political structure” in an organisation (whether that be national government, or your primary school’s P.T.A.) you will find that people become less and less effective the further up the hierarchy they sit. The higher-up they go, the more people want that job. The best way for them to get that job is to undermine the person who has it – so everyone spends their time backstabbing or covering their asses. The organisation as a whole ceases to function in the purpose for which it was intended.
After listening to the anecdotes of my parents’ experiences in their local neighbourhood watch … I’m not sure I would trust anyone who has been given any more responsibility than (say) “biscuit and teabag purchaser” for the village coffee mornings. Its enough to make you despair of humanity.
For 95% of our lives, we (the average voter) do not give a toss about politics. Politics exist in that section of our lives we fence-off for shopping for house insurance, getting the car serviced or weeding the patio. We are dimly aware that something needs doing, we spend the absolute minimum amount of time dealing with the problem, and then we push it to the back of our minds for as long as we possibly can.
Modern technology and multimedia has reduced us to a people who can only really digest “factoids”. Any useful information or knowledge must be distilled into chunks small enough to fit into a 160-character SMS message or a slot in a commercial break.
Woe-betide any politician, broadcasting agency or journalist who tries to break this rule. To talk for too long on any subject (no matter how important) is to invite the viewer to change over to one of the other 500 trash-TV channels. To break the rule of the MTV generation is to invite political suicide.
As a consequence, politics adapts to suit. Any policy must be boiled-down to a ten-second soundbyte. Fundamental beliefs and principles become two-line slogans on airbrushed billboards. It’s not politics; it’s “spin”.
But we shouldn’t hate politicians for this. They know if they didn’t give it to us the way we want it, no-one would vote for them. It’s survival of the fittest – why should we vote for a party whose broadcast interrupts our viewing of “Britain’s Got Talent”?
We in the UK live in a sophisticated, enlightened society (don’t laugh), and so we embrace the sophisticated, enlightened concept of “democracy” (I said don’t laugh). Everyone gets a say in who runs our country. This means, dear voter, that you get exactly the kind of leader you deserve.
You have the power to choose who will run your country (in theory, anyway). They will decide how much money to take from you. They will get the power to your house so you can watch ITV. They will decide how much tax to add on to the cost of your Jumbo Cheesy Wotsits you will eat whilst watching ITV. They will decide whether they can afford to pay the NHS to fit you with that gastric band. And they will decide how much money to spend on your inevitable triple heart bypass, gangrenous amputations, and inevitable disposal of your rancid, fetid carcass.
So … over the last few years, exactly how much have you paid attention to UK politics? In between all the time you have spent on Confused.com for your car insurance, watching “Heroes”, getting the dog spayed and moaning about how much it costs to get the car valeted?
Possibly a similar amount to me: diddly-squat.
I am dimly aware of racist, sensationalist headlines on the front of the Daily Mail when I pass a newsagent. I see that most of our politicians have been claiming on the “generous side” for their expenses, and that (in a fine display of democracy) no MP would vote on any policy which is against their personal interest. But I don’t feel strongly enough to do anything about it. The rest of my life is full enough, thank you. I’ll leave lying, cheating and backstabbing to those who are good at it.
I suspect that I am not alone in my deliberate “blinkering”. I am one of the many “unsure voters” that the politicians are trying to attract.
But to attract us, they must appeal to us on our superficial level. There’s no point having any meaningful debate; no sense in wasting time comparing and analysing policy. They must win our vote by being the most “memorable” when we get to the voting booths.
They do this by having the most witty putdowns of their rivals. By having the whitest smile. The silkiest hair. The most choreographed and schooled “body language”. The bitchiest billboards. The eyecandy wife with the most “definitely would” factor.
After all: if we don’t trust any of the parties, we might as well choose the leader with the hottest wife. France have been beating us on that front so far.
And lets not forget whatever celebrities they can wheel out in their cause. I mean: Michael Caine? They know we’re more likely to vote for them if they can sneak in a quick “you’re only supposed to blow the bloody constituency” joke in. We’re more likely to vote for someone who hangs out with that bloke off that quiz show. You know, the funny one? With the beard?
And yet I feel vaguely guilty that people died in order to give me my right to a private vote. People who felt passionately that democracy was the way to an enlightened society.
People who never saw celebrities lining up on TV, telling everyone who they’re going to vote for.
People who wouldn’t be happy to know that in these enlightened times, most people’s concept of “standing up for what they believe in” consists merely of joining some badly-named Facebook groups. Mouse-click democracy. Our decision on who to vote for is more likely to be dictated by their Twitter feed than by their moral convictions.
I have this idea that before someone can vote, they should first be asked to do a small written test at the polling station. Nothing too difficult – multiple choice should be fine. But enough to show that the voter can at least identify photographs of the candidates, and can perform a “match the policy with the party” test. That would demonstrate that the voter has a moderate interest in politics, knows what each party is about, and has an opinion which is informed enough to be worthy of deciding how an entire country is governed.
Bloody-revolution is the next step, but it seems very un-British. Not what a civilised society gets up to. Plenty more “Angry, of Doncaster” letters to be written to The Editor before that happens.
Hey ho. See you all at the booths. It’s important that we take part, apparently.