Thursday, 25 October 2012

Politicans' relationship with voters

"When I say the word 'politician', what do you think?" the first golfer, named Peter, replied: "Liars"."Selfish," added David."Privileged and arrogant," said Paul. "Devious," said Barry. "Insincere," said Steve. Daphne, the only woman in the group, was not much kinder. "Self-seeking," she said

Through observing this important work that Gloria is doing, I thought that it does have relevance to some of the findings from this series of posts. Though the scope could get wider here, it occurred to me that through these words, we seem to a problem with a breakdown in a relationship. It sounds almost as if these voters split up with a partner they really didn't like very much!

So this started me thinking about the relationship between a politician and a voter. All human interaction forms relationships in my view, the differentiating factor being the length or depth of the relationship.

How should we appropriately define a relationship in this context? Wikipedia tries here. It's not completely the same as a relationship with a significant other, of course but a number of the same concepts can be applied

Commitment: This is an interesting one - the voter is clearly able to change party - that's the point of democracy. However, the politician is encouraged to commit to promises, pledges, manifestos and other written contracts. Very interesting - somewhat one-sided you might say!

Consistency: Consistency is a natural human need that we all have and can be exploited. We seem to want ourselves and others to be consistent. Politicans will know all about this.

Balance: I think the voters at the moment hold a lot of resentment towards the politicans as the perception is, as Gloria De Piero's research above shows, that they are "in it for what they can get" - a rather unbalanced relationship, and the effect is voters are voting with their feet - going anywhere but the polling station.

Shared values: Ah, the holy grail of a political party. This one I think the three main parties articulate quite well, probably because we've been at it quite a long time. However, it is highly volatile. As a Lib Dem, I am passionate about fairness - so I'll be holding up our politicians to a microscope to see how fair they are - but an individual policy or action may put that in jeopardy - even if their general attitude to policy is pretty fair.

In order to perceive if someone has the same values as you, you can only judge on actions. That takes time. In this sense the voters actually have an advantage - the politicians try to judge on intention - polls, however the public judge on action - which is pretty wise. Of course as politicians we can judge on action, in hindsight, after the votes are counted. But then, it's a bit too late to  reference their values or, indeed change their actions. 

Respect: Hopi Sen has also written a very sensible blog post on Labour's lost voters, and why they are wrong. It's actually more respectful in a relationship to be honest, tell the other how you feel (respectfully!) and what you are prepared to do/not do, and then you are both well situated to talk further and perhaps come to a compromise - otherwise you might have to go your separate ways. But, by chasing every vote, rather than drawing our boundaries and saying, in effect "No, I am not prepared to do what you want - and here's why" we may be setting ourselves up for a dysfunctional relationship with the voters - one without boundaries
Trust : And so I come to trust. It's often said that once the trust is gone, that's it. However in both interpersonal relationships and other ones, trust can be restored - it takes time, and references back to both shared values and consistent action. I think there is a breakdown in trust. I'm not sure how it can be regained, but perhaps we need to know better who we are as politicans, politicos, activists in order to better understand our relationship with voters and trust therein.

And to those voters who aren't "wrong" but who have lost faith in the political process anyway? I think it's more that they don't see the point anymore, like a failed relationship.

But, these days, post 1997 and the time the country fell in love with the Labour party, and packed it's bags and left in 2010, who's left to pick up the pieces?

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