Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Sunday, 6 April 2014

I blame the voters

I quit the Lib Dems last year mainly due to a growing disillusionment with politics. This takes a number of forms but amongst the top irritations for me is the culture of "failing to think things through".

I suppose there are many policies that would fall into this category in some way or another. Examples would be the "bedroom tax" which although in principle in a perfect world might work, in a country where it has only been possible for 6% of those affected to actually move to a smaller house (due to lack of housing stock) it instead causes hardship and suffering for the remaining 94% for no good reason.

Another example from the other side would be the policy currently being floated by Labour of planning to reduce tuition fees from £9,000 per year to £6,000 per year. All this is going to do is reduce the amount of money that the wealthiest ultimately have to pay back as those who earn moderate or average salaries after graduation would never end up paying the full amount back before the 30 year limit anyway. So a party that professes to want to help the poorest in society are proposing a flagship policy that will actually help the richest.

And in fact calling this the politics of "not thinking things through" is probably too generous. I suspect in most cases these policies have indeed been thought through. It's just that the temptations to garner the headlines for "cracking down on benefits" or "reducing tuition fees for hardworking families" are too good to resist.

The politicians advocating and implementing these policies are really engaging in a form of willful blindness.

But there is an aspect of this that we should not ignore. Those politicians would not be able to get away with doing this if they were properly held to account. Yes, the media should do it but the responsibility equally falls on the shoulders of all of us.

So no longer being a member of a party I now have the freedom to do something that politicians never do.

I'm blaming the voters.

If we had an electorate that fully engaged with the issues then policies like the "bedroom tax" would never have been risked. Those planning to implement it would have realised there would have been a huge backlash from a well informed electorate that would have quickly worked out there is no way for it to work without punishing some of the poorest amongst us.

If we had a franchise that was fully numerate and understood how tuition fees currently work (and who ends up paying them back in full) then Labour would not chance their arm in pushing a policy that rewards future bankers and lawyers at the expense of everyone else.

If we all read up on the history of prohibition in the US in the 1920s and drew the parallels with the current "war on drugs" it is likely that our current damaging, ridiculous, incoherent and inconsistent drugs policies would have been reformed years ago.

But that does not happen. People are too busy and/or uninterested in matters of public policy to give the scrutiny it would require for them to take a collective and fully informed decision.

I get it. I get that for the vast majority politics is a vague background irritant that only impinges on their consciences very occasionally, e.g. at general election time.

What I am saying is that it is all very well to blame politicians for bad decisions (and I often do - they definitely should do better) but their primary goal is to get and retain power. If they think they can only do that by appealing to the lowest common denominator as they know it will be filtered through the tabloid press and by polemicists who often get the most media coverage then that is what they will do.

I'm not sure there is really an answer to this problem. If anything, political engagement has been on the slide in recent decades. I suppose it is possible that as the internet and social media become ever more pervasive the chance for people to fully engage with political issues and evidence increases. But the amount of times I have seen things that are blatantly false go viral online suggests that this is unlikely to be a good solution either.

One thing is for sure. If the electorate continues to be largely disengaged then we will continue to get these sort of policies.

And whilst I'm happy to apportion the fair share of blame to those vying for or in power I also think a substantial share should go where it is equally deserved.



Jim said...

Why are voters disengaged? Because whoever you vote for, nothing really changes. The same identikit politicians are in charge, the same quangocrats and Eurocrats make the real decisions and there is just a semblance of 'democracy'.

Give people real power, over the finances, over the laws they are ruled by, and they will vote. But that will never happen because the political establishment don't trust the voters to make the 'right' decisions. So they are kept at arms length from the power, and people like you wonder why no-one votes or engages with politics any more.

Bloke with a Boat said...

But they do engage us; through focus groups in marginal constituencies. Anyway, the two examples you gave were dog whistles, the bedroom tax was to cheer up the Tory right who lost miniterial position to the LibDems and the tuition fees isn't a real policy anyway, you are agree with tuition fees or you don't, £6k is just dithering, but it satisfies Miliband's left flank.

The real problem is that we don't get MPs who owe us their judgement which is exercised by country, constituency and then party, we get another clone parachuted in who then becomes lobby fodder.

I don't even blame the public who always ask for "something to be done" because politicians won't tell them that sometimes nothing can be done or that they have to do it themselves. Instead that pretend that they "have done something" which usually bears no relation to the original problem.

I could rant on, but you get the picture.

PS and what Jim says.

Voter said...

There are real problems that need solving such as banking, energy and civil liberties.
The trouble is that politicians are not interested in solving them. They are just interested in being like the Conservatives.
This is just a personal perspective but if you want me to vote for you, you need to actually do
the things that appeal to me

Anonymous said...

To be fair it's not like politics is a compulsory subject at school and you don't gain statistical literacy through GCSE maths.

Besides we have a culture that encourages selfish individualism (thank you capitalist mindset) and a system which actively discriminates against anyone with any honesty or integrity.

Im an optimist about freer communication and information improving things eventually (give it a couple of hundred years) but it'll take a few more crisis and possibly the odd revolution to get there.

Anonymous said...

Worth noting in passing that all the ONS statistics and predictions suggest that £9k is a broken level for student loans, the number has to go either up or down simply to make the system workable.

But then, to realise that would involve thinking things through…

Fundamentally, we have a rotten system and there is no reasonable hope of holding MPs to account.

As such, blaming the voters is convenient, but unlikely to make many changes - as voters would have to be superhuman to overcome the system as it stands…

Perhaps if the Lib Dems hadn't walked into a bear trap on the referendum, surrendering so many of their principles (GCHQ is particularly depressing) for a non-shot at change, we might be in a better place.