Sunday, 18 November 2012

Relationship Breakdown between the Electorate and the Elected

Hopi Sen has presented me with a problem, he's said what I was thinking.

"....politics has been as much a struggle to prove to the voter that our politicians are smarter, stronger, fitter, better looking and have better hair than the other lot. Politicians? They were never sick, never confused, never half asleep, never just plain knackered. Always ready with the right answer, like some preternaturally perfect schoolboy genius.
 Worse, to convince voters that they were all-encompassing and all knowing, politicians had to convince themselves and all those who mediated between them and the public, from spin doctors to news editors that all this was true. They couldn't admit to flaws, couldn't admit to errors, couldn't admit to messing things up, to not being sure. That meant they could never be fully human. "

Hopi's style of pragmatic campaign experience plus clear-thinking appreciation of the issues facing Britain today appeals to me, almost as much as the fact-laden, timely posts from Stephen Tall or the new kid on the block, Mike Bird, who I find very good at pointing out elephants in many Liberal Democrat rooms.

The only thing that holds me back from full on Hopi appreciation is that he doesn't support the correct party, of course. Anyway, how to develop his point so as to have something new to say?

Lately, and for a few different reasons, I've been thinking about politics as a relationship between the electorate and politicians, as it is one. 

I've been doing a far bit of reading into books such as "The Road Less Travelled". Some of these do talk about the ingredients for a dysfunctional relationship: putting people on pedestals, unrealistic expectations, looking for other people to solve our problems and in the end, bitter, apathetic, arguments causing destruction and hurt.

This was on my mind when Stephen Tall and I had this twitter exchange (below left) the other day, after he tweeted about the reaction to the poor turnout in the PCC elections.

Some relationships don't work - which we accept and move on. Some could perhaps be fixed with effort on both sides and enough commitment. It's not quite clear what the British electorate wants - Dan Hodges thinks it's better public services but ignores the slice of the electorate that also wants lower taxes. EU nuts bang on about being out of Europe being our only salvation, but I'm always rather suspicious of anyone promoting panaceas 

Which brings me onto not believing the hype. I think this is the comedown from falling in love with New Labour in 1997. They shape-shifted and left us with a dour Gordon Brown rather than shiny Tony Blair, something I still don't think Labour really understand about their defeat - it's a bit unforgivable really.

Rather tolerantly, the British public gave Cameron a go, only to find he's a bit ....lacking in the domestic partner stakes as well, lack of commitment to any policy it seems, as well as to his pre-election (read pre-relationship) promises about Big Society, and all being in it together.

But, lets turn to us, the electorate. Far from being a battered partner, or a trophy one, we're an equal partner in this relationship. What are we actually asking from our politicians? 

I think we may well be projecting. Projecting, at the emergence of a new face - all our desires and ambitions for us as a country. Some know this and manipulate it, step forward Tony Blair and the New Labour project. Some look at it and attempt some of the moves in an attempt to seduce us, but without the commitment, retreat back to their old stomping ground quickly enough - why hello Mr Osborne.

And then, at the end of things, the destructive tendency appears. Our issues must be down to single factors, like immigration, or "benefit culture" or the EU. And demagogues like George Galloway arise like seductive, dangerous femme fatales (there doesn't seem to be a male equivalent!),  to tempt the supposedly pliable electorate away from the dysfunctional relationship (only to of course, drop commitment to their interests when the objective has been achieved, but I digress).

We then project our worst feelings about ourselves onto these self-same politicians - lying, deceitfulness, shame. When, as is often inevitable the cracks appear we go "see? Knew they were a bad un" - and the cynicism, apathy, anger and disconnect loom ever larger.

To fix it? To fix it we need commitment. We need both sides to want a better future. A lot of the left still seem to have hatred of Tories at their heart, which doesn't really take them closer to coming up with ideas. The Tories I find very selfish and concerned with their own interests above all : short sighted on Lord's reform, AV, using welfare reform to establish their vision of what a family should look like. Labour, too focused on re-distribution rather than equality of opportunity, like we are.

I still think I'm in the right party. I still think a lot of what we're doing is correct. I'm not sure the electorate wants a relationship with any of us right now tho. 

Hopi ends:

"Then maybe, just maybe, we can discard the worst, applaud the best and encourage the vast majority struggling along in the middle. If we do that, perhaps we can like politics for what it is, and not be asked to love it for what it could never be."
Therefore I think he's proposing we are friends with our politicians, rather than lovers. Maybe that is indeed, a good place to start. 

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