Friday, 24 January 2014

Apathy and Politics

Young People in Politics

At a recent Labour Party meeting I was asked how we could engage more young people in politics. As the youngest person in the room at 35, I understood why they asked me! However, at 35 I would say it has been about 15 years since I genuinely thought of myself as young. Also, I grew up in a politically active environment which is not typical of most of the friends I grew up with. An interest in politics, for the majority of people I know outside of my council work, is limited to election time, voting and commenting on something that directly impacts them in a negative way. Right now, there are a number of issues which I see as a barrier to more people of all ages getting involved in politics and also a reason for an increase in apathy towards politics. Below are a few of the key ones, but definitely not the only ones.

The Debate

One of the great problems and frustrations I have encountered from people with regards to politics is the way in which political discourse is undertaken. It is difficult to have an honest debate about any issue where there are politically differing opinions. Both sides desperate to save face will only argue on their own point and not engage in any points that could make them look bad. This means that a piece of genuinely interesting political discourse is never interrogated in public with any integrity by politicians.

Channel 4’s Factcheck has shown that there are plenty of occasions when politicians simply lie. Tony Blair will always be remembered for WMD’s that never appeared and introducing student fees despite saying he had no plans to do so. David Cameron may well be remembered for his pre-election promises of, amongst others, no more top down reorganisation of the NHS, to protect NHS Spending, to protect Sure Start Centres and his cutting of the educational maintenance allowance despite saying he had no plans to do so.

An example of where the debate has fallen down so badly, for me, the student fees debate. The fees were increased from £3k a year to up to £9k a year. At the end of three years student education, a student would owe nearly £20k more as a result of these changes. However, when watching the debate, it was impossible for me to understand what was happening. Conservative politicians were all saying that students would pay less which simply does not seem possible. Why would anyone believe they will pay less when they will owe £20k more than before? With discussions like these, it is perhaps unsurprising people don’t believe politicians.

The Media

(examples of the poor standard of reporting around immigration. The article at the bottom was factually deficient and required a small print retraction)

One major guilty party in this is the media. The majority of the UK media is right wing, due to wealthy owners pushing their own political agendas. The exceptions are the Guardian and the Mirror which are left wing and the Independent which is probably just left of centre in UK politics. If we take a hot topic like immigration, all parties in UK politics are currently claiming they want to limit immigration and it would be political suicide to say otherwise. The right-wing papers have fuelled this debate by printing selective negative stories and in some cases inventing statistics and stories meaning people genuinely believe most immigrants are just here to receive benefits and not work. The hysterical and dishonest media approach means that any politician that claimed to be in favour of immigration for the following completely factual reasons would receive negative headlines on the subject without any attempt to investigate what they are actually saying.

Studies have proven that economically, immigration is good for this country. Immigrants tend to come over at working age and so are net imputers to the tax coffers. Also, studies have proven that they are more likely to work than the indigenous population. Finally, when we look at our NHS, it is staffed by a large number of immigrants from overseas including countries like India, South Africa and Kenya. Without immigrants our NHS would be in a poor state.

Party Politics

I am a Labour supporter, but I do not agree with everything my party does. Recently, Ed Milliband distancing himself from the unions, who have done so much for worker’s rights, has frustrated me. However, I have more in common with Labour supporting the NHS, State Education and the vulnerable than any other political party. My local MP Andy Reed damaged his political career, but gained the respect of many people including myself, when he resigned his cabinet position because of his objection to the Iraq war. Right now, the Liberal Democrats in government have sold out many of their principles to be part of a coalition government. However, whenever any MP speaks out against one of their party’s ideas, the opposition seizes upon it in an almost rabid way treating it as a weakness instead of treating it as an opportunity for a piece of genuine political discourse.

Party Politics frustrates those outside of politics and some inside politics. I remember when I was younger hearing Michael Portillo stating frustration with party politics as a reason for quitting parliament. Rousseau stated that the party political system prevented the British people from ever being free. Democracy is imperfect. Any future Utopian democratic system would have to find a way of eliminating or at least subduing party politics if it is to improve from what we have today.