With only just about two thirds of eligible voters actually voting in the 2001, 2005 and 2010 general elections (59.4%, 61.3%, 65.0% respectively) as well as a lack of genuine public interest in the politics, policies, and characters of the protagonists in our political system, it begs the question as to whether the real problem with politics is not the inability to engage, but whether it is actually sufficiently interesting enough to engage the population.
To add context, when a petition to reinstate Jeremy Clarkson far exceeds members of all of the major parties and some minor parties combined, it is a clear indication as to where the public interest lies. For even petitions combatting draconian government surveillance measures that clearly infringe basic Human Rights can only dream of ever achieving the 840,000 signatures that the Jeremy Clarkson petition has managed to secure in the space of three days.
This therefore proposes the following question; is politics in the United Kingdom simply boring? When listening to Ed Miliband elaborate on his promises to guarantee apprenticeships to those who achieve the grades, does one feel entranced; enticed; attracted; hooked; on the edge of their seat, when listening to a policy that could potentially affect thousands of disenchanted youth? When listening to David Cameron laud his government’s achievements at reforming the stamp duty or reducing the deficit (ironically by having to borrow more money), does one feel utterly taken by the man’s charisma, charm, attitude and passion?
In reality, Prime Ministers Questions on Wednesdays could probably only dream of commanding a viewership such as that commanded by Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear, Britain’s Got Talent, X Factor or the like. Youtube hits for politicians tend to be higher when they are included in a parody by cassetteboy or Thug Life than they ever are based on their own merit. Though even then, they come nowhere near the millions who watch Jeremy Clarkson and Simon Cowell, even though the former are the very people who have the power to affect our futures, and limit our fundamental rights and freedoms.
Even in the race for twitter followers, Simon Cowell (11.6 million), Jeremy Clarkson (4.7 million), Richard Hammond (1.98 million), James May (1.93 million) far exceed the Prime Minister’s (lamentable in comparison) 933,000 followers and Ed Miliband’s 337,000 followers.
On the other hand, whilst Prime Minister’s Questions with its boisterous nature as parties score cheap points on one another is frowned upon domestically, foreigners express significant interest into how ‘exciting’ British politics is as opposed to ‘our boring system’. ‘It looks so fun’ expressed an international student studying in the United Kingdom.
Perhaps the British people should be grateful for such a boring state of affairs. Indeed being able to ignore the state of politics and continue with day to day life is a luxury not afforded in many countries where daily politics is a matter of life and death, and political affiliations result in either exile or life imprisonment. Populations who try to ignore are forced to choose between government and opposition and subsequently caught in the crossfire and forced to leave their homes and flee to neighbouring countries and rely on a lagging international community to come to their rescue. Perhaps many in those countries would prefer such a boring state of affairs.
However a dangerous risk comes with such disengagement as it encourages silence on fundamental issues such as the infringement of freedoms in the name of ensuring security and stability. Such attitudes are reminiscent of the story of those who ‘came for the communists, then the Jews, and then for me…and no one was left to say anything’. Many may respond to this statement by citing freedom to protest and free media as fundamentals of British society.
However in reality, protests and anti-war coverage did little to prevent the war on Iraq that subsequently created an environment for rampant militias to thrive; nor hold the government to account for participation in the rendition of suspects who did not have fair recourse to due process;nor the gradual privatisation of the NHS. Even the Guardian’s exposure of the BAE files was a chapter that came and went, failing to really instigate a nationwide debate on patronage and ‘schmoozing’ in the United Kingdom. For indeed perhaps there is a false sense of belief that such acts are synonymous with the ‘third world’ and cannot possibly affect such a stable democracy as ours.
The fact is, such matters are not felt directly by the ordinary British citizen.This is the danger of disengagement with politics; the creation of a psychological state of ignorance that leads to the emergence once more of an almighty state.