The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

The People’s Politician

Posted by The Futility Monster on March 20, 2010 @ 17:33

Ann Widdecombe joins the ranks of the many who can't be arsed with Twitter. Me too, usually!

I meant to write something about this programme that appeared on BBC2 on Thursday night yesterday, but better late than never…

The premise of the programme was how politicians can become more connected to their electorates, in an age where apathy is rising, and more and more people are tuning out.

In the end, the programme was disappointing. Like most TV fayre these days it was presented in docusoap style, involving jaunty camera work, a sarcastic narrator/presenter, and plenty of soundbites.

Perhaps I was misled. I thought it was going to look at ways we could solve the problem. Instead, it merely invited a couple of politicians to be the “stars” of the show: Anne Widdecombe MP and Richard Caborn MP. It sent them on a mildly entertaining journey, trying to use Twitter and websites to see if anyone out there was interested. Naturally, the website was a failure, as all websites that are created with no fanfare, no linking, no promotion are.

The Twittering Anne Widdecombe did get a response, just like most celebrities on Twitter do. But it was the usual blend of cynical, aggressive and stupid responses that Twitter is becoming famous for. It’s no substitute for what the program was trying to do.

In the end, the program was more descriptive than analytical. It described the problem well. It showed a lot of adults, mostly the young and the working class who have no engagement with civil society at all. For some, life was OK, work was OK, and the family was OK, so they just didn’t care. They didn’t see the effect politicians have on their lives, and why would you? The burning issues of the past have been resolved. There is no Cold War. There is no socialism. There is only pragmatism. In the end, things get done.

Meanwhile, the working class were pissed off, but they were pissed off by things that either a) weren’t true, but they were told they are; or b) things that politicians can’t really do much about, like immigration, wars, economies and housing. Maybe in the past they could, but the globalised world has taken much of the influence of politicians away and put it in the hands of corporations and supra-national governance. These people may have voted Labour in the past, but now feel so let down that they just don’t care any more.

These days, the things politicians can do something about are the domestic bits of policy that construct our state. Education. Health. Transport. It was a coalition of love for the public sector that brought Labour to power in 1997. It worked once. It won’t work again unless a new generation starts to think either a) the state needs scrapping; or b) the state is doing such a bad job that we need a 1997 wave again.

The contributors to the programme sort of mentioned the point I’m making here, that politics is not dying because politicians aren’t communicating, and the internet is no saviour. About 5-10 years ago people seemed to assume rising apathy could be countered by politicians making themselves more available by utilising the web. That has been proved wrong.

Instead, we’ve gone back to the future. Back to realising what it was in 2001 that caused turnout to drop to the worst in post-war history. That sense of “politics doesn’t matter to me”. It’s a self-centred, deluded way of looking at society and your place in it. It is the consequence of more people answering the collective action problem with individual apathy, which leads to collective inaction; a failure to appreciate that society doesn’t work if we all tune out.

How can it be tackled?

The programme offered no answers. I guess that wasn’t its purpose. It ended with a shrug of disappointment and slight melancholy that things have gotten to where they are.

But maybe the more pressing issue is not how it can be tackled, but whether it can be tackled at all.

I remain pessimistic.

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