Thursday, 15 October 2009

Guest Post: Politics: Why Bother?

A question I've been wondering about for some time. But given I have a vested interest in the answer (student of politics) I wasn't sure I should answer. But then I was emailed this argument. I don't know if I agree with all of it - but there's plenty to think about...

Guest post by Wendy Fraser (aka PJ)

I’m asked this question all the time by friends and family, bemused by my fascination with all matters political and bewildered by my addiction to Question Time, Newsnight, Andrew Marr and various (numerous) other political programmes. Their argument is often ‘it makes no difference what people outside government think or say’ or the all-too-common ‘all politicians are just out to get as much out of the system as they can’. So are they wrong? Well yes and no, and here’s why I think that.

There are two divisive topics regarding politics and politicians that, to me, define the lack of motivation to engage with the political process – empowerment and integrity. If the electorate do not feel empowered by our current political process to influence positive change then why would they bother to engage with it? If they don’t believe in the integrity of their political representatives then who can they believe in?

Now I don’t agree with either of those viewpoints but neither can I say that they are just misconceptions because they are so much more than that. At best they represent a lack of knowledge/belief but at worst an abdication of responsibility.

It’s so easy to blame someone else, to point the finger and say “It’s not my fault it’s their’s”. Sadly, we see this all too often in the public outpourings of frustration and anger directed between political adversaries (I was going to say parties, but that would have ruled out all the infighting!) The endless negativity, the personal attacks and backstabbing, sleaze and gossip – it does nothing to show politics in this country, or any other for that matter, as the immensely important arena that it actually is. I get tired of listening to it, and I’m a politics geek!

Having watched the endless tittle tattle and schoolboy bullying is it really surprising that the public have responded with such fury and revulsion to the expenses scandal? When the perception of politicians is already so low there wasn’t exactly a pool of public goodwill to tap into! It is my hope that the expenses debate will be dealt with swiftly and effectively, those who abused the system should be punished, those who did not should be able to continue untainted by their association with a flawed system. Can we get back to solving the problems with the economy, poverty and the environment now please?

But we need to do more than just renew faith in our individual politician’s integrity we also need to renew faith in our political process. A more positive approach isn’t exactly a new appeal but it certainly would be a good start. Engaging with people at an individual basis is the key to success here I believe. I know many political activists from different political parties who are doing just this, wearing through shoe leather pounding the streets and knocking on doors to talk to people directly. I’ve never had anybody knock on my door (perhaps I’m blacklisted...) but I know I’d be pretty impressed if they did, and I am in awe of the activists who give up their time to do this for their parties.

I also think that mediums like blogs and Twitter have tremendous power to connect and inform people but at a more important level they also empower people to speak directly to those in positions of influence, and sometimes they even answer! I still remember being a bit stunned when Jo Swinson the Lib Dem MP for East Dunbartonshire sent me a tweet regarding a blog and Twitter debate I was involved in, how fantastic to be able to engage directly with someone who wasn’t even my MP but was significant in highlighting the issues at the centre of that particular debate! Jo is particularly adept at using Twitter to engage, and more and more MPs and MSPs are recognising its benefits and following suit. However, as has been found out the hard way, there are some inherent dangers for politicians who tweet without due thought and consideration...

My comeback to those who question my interest in politics is that I believe my vote is important and I’m not going to automatically give it to the party my parents vote for or my friends vote for, I want to make an informed choice. I get very angry with people who do not use their vote, who abdicate their responsibility to engage with our political processes. Yes, the system is not perfect but we have a responsibility to all those who have fought for our right to vote to use it and to use it well. We all have a voice that can be heard, although admittedly some are louder and more persistent than others....


Holyrood Patter 15 October 2009 at 12:49  

im in awe of certain activists aswell, and if someone from another party knocks my door, i always liek to have a chat, see how their campaign is going etc. i know plenty others who i can have debates with from other parties.

there are plenty loathsome people in every party who refuse to engage, or never wear blue or what have you, but there are plenty of mature and pragmatic activists aswell

stuart 15 October 2009 at 22:18  

"I want to make an informed choice"

This very good blog piece and the last paragraph makes me think of a number of people I know who vote for the SNP "because it keeps Labour and the Tories in check". or "vote for the SNP but don't believe in independence."

Now, its still a reason to vote, and I respect that, but I can't help thinking these people miss the point? Surely the idea should be that you vote for the party that best represents your political opinion, that you make that informed choice...not vote for the one that ISN'T the other one...?

But hey, that's democracy!

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