According to a poll conducted for the Hansard Society less than half (42%) of the British public will openly admit to having any interest in politics and only 48% said they would go out and vote were a general election to be held. This shows a fall of nine points in the past year and is the lowest figure recorded since such polls began nine years ago.
Just 24% of the people questioned said the coalition was working well, although this jumped 56% amongst self declared Tory voters, Lib Dems were less enthusiastic with just 27% saying the coalition was working. No surprise really since until the shambles over the budget the lion’s share of public opprobrium was heaped upon Nick Clegg’s hapless crew.
Dr Ruth Fox of the Hansard Society told politics.co.uk that voters seemed to be ‘disgruntled, disillusioned and disengaged’ adding that if ‘only a quarter of the population are satisfied with our system of governing’ it ‘must raise questions about the long term capacity of that system to command public support and confidence.’
There is, perhaps, some small crumb of comfort to be drawn from the fact that 56% of people still thought that it was possible to make a difference politically at a local level; until you read on and discover that only 38% said they wanted to be actively involved with local politics.
When we think about a ‘broken’ political system it is easy to picture something that resembles Eastern Europe after the wall came down, or some banana republic where everyone from the bellboy on upwards has a price and isn’t ashamed to name it. The corruption within our system, all those duck houses and bath plugs bought on expenses is very much minor league stuff by comparison.
Our problem isn’t a culture where politicians are on the take; its one where they are taken for granted.
On the one hand you can see why so many people are turned off by politics, the noisy, childish and out of touch antics of many practitioners act as a sort of aversion therapy when it comes to crushing engagement. The moribund state of the three main political parties doesn’t help either , but the fault can’t solely laid at the door of the Oxbridge educated politicians who have done so much to turn their parties into ghost brands.
Like it or not we the, increasingly non-voting, public must shoulder some of the blame. Just as there are ‘census Christians’, people who pitch up at church for weddings, christenings and the odd Harvest Festival when the kids are small, but don’t much want the fuss and awkwardness of actually believing in all that guff we now have ‘census democrats’; people who think voting is important and democracy is a good thing but don’t want the hassle of actually taking part.
In their understanding of politics the council and beyond them the government exist as a sort of amorphous ‘they’ to be called on to solve any problems that might crop up and ignored the rest of the time. This is what has fuelled the rise and rise of what might be called anti-politics politicians, who include in their number the likes of Tony Blair and George Galloway.
Whatever they may tell the public (or themselves) such politicians believe first and last in the inevitability of their ascent to high office, everything and everyone else is just a rung on the ladder to the top. In place of real beliefs or convictions they have a shrewd grasp of the zeitgeist of their particular moment and a neat facility when it comes to performing for the cameras.
They are lionised for a brief period and then shunned by the public they so cynically took in; needless to say the ‘change’ and ‘hope’ they promised never arrives. Real change, dull as the prescription may be, will only come about when the political system itself does more to promote collaboration and consensus.
A little under a year ago the British public fluffed the chance to start building such a system when it allowed itself to be scared into rejecting plans to change the voting system. If we had accepted the alternative vote and begun the much needed discussion about maybe moving to proportional representation it might have allowed new, possibly ‘radical’ voices to join the political conversation whilst tempering what they say with the moderation that comes from having to actually deliver.
Instead the next election will be fought by exhausted parties saying things in which the voting public isn’t much interested. If the Hansard Society conducts a poll in 2015 the days when less than half the public took an interest in politics may seem like a golden age of engagement.