Monday, May 02, 2016

The politicians we deserve


We are a democracy, and so we get the politicians we deserve.

If we derive our news from personality-obsessed newspapers who fail to do even basic grunt-work to hold our representatives to account, well so be it.

If we look out onto the world of politics and simply sigh that they're all corrupt, and politics is boring in any case, well that's our right but don't then complain that nothing better is available.

If we are angry or annoyed that the campaign on one of the most important issues in a generation - the EU referendum - is being somehow trashed on both sides by outrageous, emotive, headline-hunting rhetoric, well we might just want to reflect on who the well-paid campaign leaders and researchers are aiming at.  Us, the voting public.  And they've mastered enough polling and marketing material to believe that their campaign is the very one we respond most to.  Had they bombarded us with information, boring but rational argument, a careful consideration of the volume of detail available to understand the pros and cons of EU membership; well then we probably wouldn't have listened.

If we think that the election to run one of the biggest cities in the world has become mired in name-calling, sleaze and racism, and seems moreover to be conducted by seriously uninspiring candidates fit possibly to become the middle-managers of a small business enterprise rather than visionary leaders of a great and complex city, well that too is due to the latitude we've extended to the current comedy occupant.

That's the thing about democracy.  It is about us.  We, the people.  We, the people who have the right to hire and fire our law-makers, hold them to account, reward the good ones and consign the bad ones to Trotsky's dustbin of history.  Instead of which, bored by real politics and by the necessity of being properly informed on issues of the day so that we can use our democratic right in a duly informed manner, we allow our politics to be become neglected and then subsumed by the same misshapen characteristics that prevail on those venal curses of modern entertainment, the reality television shows.  After all, that's what politics has really become.  A nationwide reality show, without the same level of viewers or attention afforded to the Saturday night versions.  Our politicians even talk with the same verbal incontinence of reality TV performers, as witness Ken Livingstone's current strife.

Of course some people recognise the situation we're in.  The Times lambasted Jeremy Corbyn as being a leader of "incompetence and nugatory intellect" in a striking indictment of his record and abilities.  The Guardian's Sonia Purnell penned a withering critique of outgoing London Mayor Boris Johnson, a man allowed to get away with promoting himself exhaustively over eight years when he should have been applying himself to running London.

The occasional philippic railing against our leaders and our current status is not, however, enough to force any sort of change.  Neither is racing to the nearest and loudest "anti-politician", who usually turns out to be simply another politician with a more raucous tone.

If we want to change our democracy, and the calibre of our representatives and leaders, then we, the people have to change it.  We have to interest ourselves in more than the personalities of the contest.  We have to search out real information, and demand accountability from it.  We should be joining parties to understand and influence them from the inside.  And dare I say it, as a teacher of politics, we need our schools to be more pro-active in the education of all our students in politics and civic responsibilities, not just the motivated few who choose to pursue the subject at A-level.

Maintaining a healthy and effective democratic state is not just the prerogative of the few who gain election to office.  It is the duty of all of a democracy's citizens; a deep duty that is more than the occasional shouting in support of a media bandwagon.  When we vote in our various elections on Thursday, or in the referendum on June 23rd., we might just want to ask, as we consider the choices in front of us, whether the act of voting is merely the first step in our democratic engagement.  If the choices before us this year so appall or scare us that we think about being more than just voters on the end of a process, then our democracy might be renewed after all.  Because as a democracy, we get the politicians we deserve.

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