Friday, 9 September 2016

The politics we deserve

The problem for politicians is that they are playing a game they cannot win. Take the NHS. Everybody wants first rate high quality personalised care. Nobody though wants to pay for it and thinks that someone else should regardless of the fact that what they want actually costs more than they have ever paid in taxes. The people themselves are hypocrites. The middle classes want the welfare system reformed and benefits reduced. Until they themselves have need of it. And of course you cannot expect top be elected or retain a position in high office if you do not pander to this basic hypocrisy.

This same dynamic underscores a good deal of popular euroscepticism. People say they want democracy but when given the chance to exert their own power they take no interest whatsoever. By abdicating politics to politicians there is a punchbag and someone to blame and the people are then absolved of all responsibility for what is done in their name. This is what we call representative democracy.

In this system politicians are the object of hate, routinely have their privacy violated and are expected to be on call at all times for all of our concerns regardless of how petty and mundane they are. And seemingly they are expected to do so for modest rewards. So really our politics in a way is representative in that the hypocrisy and dishonesty of our politicians is only really a mirror image of ourselves.

Worse still the public persist in demanding simple solutions to complex problems while making zero effort to familiarise themselves with the issues. Take the EU referendum. How many times did we see panel show audiences complain that they hadn't been given enough information to a backdrop of sagely nods of approval. Can you conceive of anything more bovine?

Here we are in the middle of an information revolution with absolutely all the opinion, fact and data you could possibly want at your fingertips and people sit there gormlessly pleading for their government to spoonfeed them with the answers. This notion that politicians should do as we say instantly falls apart when the public are so hopelessly dependent on politicians and government.

Not for nothing is it said that people get the government they deserve. If we have lazy, facile and shallow politics it is again a reflection of ourselves. And we see this best in the aftermath of the referendum. People demand that we invoke article 50 as soon as possible while taking zero interest in the deliberative process in defining what Brexit actually means. They complain that it's patronising to say that people don't actually know what they were voting for but actually it isn't.

As it happens there is no clear mandate to act because there is no common definition of what the EU is. I voted to leave the supranational entity to which our government is subordinate. But that definition differs from what many seem to think the EU is. Consequently it is in the hands of the politicians we abdicate our responsibilities to to define Brexit. In this they have many unenviable dilemmas.

A great many want to leave the EU as though leaving the EU somehow erased the last forty years of close cooperation and integration; to undo the last forty years of economic convergence on the back of some fairly primitive superstitions about regulation. So we are back to that hypocrisy again. People now demand we take a wrecking ball to forty years of progress but the politicians know full well that same cohort will be the first to complain and protest when the consequences of doing so hit home.

And how does one reconcile this? A public who take no interest in the process demanding something we know to be damaging with consequences they won't like and will not deliver the democracy they demand - and even if it did they wouldn't engage in it and would again blame the politicians. So you can see why governments have got in the habit of ignoring the public.

We read endless eurosceptic garbage about an unaccountable, remote elite who don't care about the wishes of the public (yes, I know, guilty as charged) but we are fifty percent of that equation. This is ultimately the product of our own wilful disengagement and a refusal to be intellectually honest.

The truth is people want a bit of a say, they want a bit of control but on the whole are happy to delegate because in the end, despite what they say, they don't care. The average Sun reader thinks we have already left the EU.

If we want politicians to stop treating us with contempt we must stop giving them reason to. If you want good government you have to put the work in and you have to engage and contribute. Simply grunting from the sidelines making dishonest and unrealistic demands without supplying an alternative is rightly treated as advisory. If people are not willing to engage in the process then they have no real excuses if politicians do as they please.

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