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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hating Politics?

Broadcaster and blogger Iain Dale posted about his growing disillusion with politics recently.  It seems to have started from a realisation that Question Time, the default programme for political obsessives, is becoming too irritating to make for stimulating viewing any more, while there's also a sense in Mr. Dale's blog entry of annoyance at the incommunicado status of some of his recently elected friends.  Let's hope he hasn't just blogged because people aren't returning his calls any more (although I know the feeling....)

Personal issues notwithstanding, he has a point about the negative impact of media reporting on politics.  We have increasingly few independent or interesting politicians at work today because of a pervasive fear that anything uttered which veers slightly off the accepted line will be reported in sensationalist fashion.  Ministers and MPs prefer to retreat into bland uniformity rather than genuinely engage in political dialogue because the world of political reporting has become so corrupted that no accurate representation of such dialogue could possibly be forthcoming.  In an era of short-term attention spans, an out of context sound-bite is everything and a considered argument nothing.  Of course, it is possible that we also just happen to have very second rate MPs, too many of whom (like all of the present party leaders) have rarely ventured outside the world of professional politics.  They have allowed themselves, through their own intellectual and political cowardice, to become the mere puppets of the media, dancing along to the ethos demanded by the print and broadcast agencies.  They do not dare to promote politics as a thinking person's activity which just might occasionally need to be controversial, and might need to address actual concerns with direct responses.

Boris Johnson is a popular politician because he does not conform to the stereotype and does things differently, as well as often speaking off-piste.  He uses this largely to become a comic vehicle, but just think of the impact someone with more serious intent could make if they had a similarly cavalier attitude towards how they were reported.  We live in an age of machine politicians, and the problem with that is when it turns us so far off the political process we forget to check in and challenge what they are doing. 

When someone like Mr. Dale - who at least has a radio show in which to promote political debate - feels turned off by politics, what hope for the rest?  Edmund Burke's famous dictum could perhaps be rephrased to suggest that "All that is required for bad laws to pass is that normal people lose interest".  Let's hope that the great political turn-off isn't too universal.

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