Why do people hate politics? Today provides two golden examples

October 15, 2013 11:20 am

Politics and politicians have never been popular, nor are they destined to be any time in the immediate future. That’s a disappointing but inevitable fact of life, and one hardened by the expenses scandal on top of the malfeasance, sleaze and general all-purpose promise breaking of generations of politicians.

(Actually – that’s unfair. The vast majority of politicians are diligent, dedicated and work incredibly hard to serve their constituents. But it only takes one bad apple, and Parliament usually contains more than a handful of rotten ones at any one time.)

But if we’re to aspire to, perhaps, politics being less hated,  or even – I’m a dreamer – being respected as a means of changing our country, then there are some ways in which we do our politics that are going to have to change. Those changes will need to be legion – politics is broken in a pretty fundamental way – but today has thrown up two perfect examples, let’s call them “pettiness” and “jiggery pokery” of what needs to be eliminated.

Both sound minor, but both are deadly serious.

First – pettiness. Ed Balls has suggested a perfectly reasonable way in which the debate about Britain’s economy could be improved come election time. Each party (with more than 5% of seats in parliament) would have their manifesto audited by the OBR, so there would be an independent estimate made of the impact of each economic plan. We’d begin to have an idea of which plan might produce more growth, which would lower unemployment and which would pay down the deficit quickest.

Considering the economy is likely to be the battleground on which the next election will be fought, having a better informed electorate sounds pretty damn reasonable and uncontroversial. Tory MP and Chair of the Treasury Select Committee Andrew Tyrie backs such a plan.

But George Osborne opposes it. Out of pettiness. Because he wants to go into the next election attacking Labour’s taxation and spending plans as “reckless” whether they actually are or not. He doesn’t want the electorate to be voting based on fact or independent opinion, he wants the campaign instead to be waged over unverified attacks and politically biased assertion. And that’s his prerogative, of course – it’s how elections are usually fought – but such pettiness is just one reason why the British people have begun to turn their backs on the political process.

There’s an opportunity for the public to be better informed about something as fiendishly complicated as the economy – something which defines their lives – yet Osborne won’t have it, for party political reasons. Petty.

Meanwhile, over in the Lords, another example of the kind of behaviour that leaves the public crossing the road to avoid politicians was taking place, this time over Social Care. After months of the government proclaiming that no-one will have to sell their homes to pay for their care and that their care costs will be capped at £72,000, it suddenly turns out that isn’t true. At all. Many older people will have to use other savings and assets before they’re even entitled to help, by selling their jewellery perhaps or pawning their heirlooms.

Can you imagine how terrifying this whole mess of a debate must be for them? You’ve been told that the government were working on a plan that would allow you to enter care without losing your home – and now it turns out it was the some of mealy-mouthed tricksy not-quite-true bollocks that the public have come to know – expect even – from our politicians.

Is it any wonder that voting levels are down, that trust in politics is through the floor and faith in the power of government to change Britain is on the wane, when the government won’t allow proper debate about our politics, and plays games with the lives of older people?

Shame on them – but shame on Labour too, because sometimes we’re tricksy too (10p tax rate anyone?) and we’re as much to blame for the way people have been turned off politics as the other lot. And pretending otherwise is exactly the kind of not-quite-true behaviour that puts Joe Public right off his breakfast.

A plague on all our houses. And a plague that we – all of us in politics – have to start cleaning up. Quickly. Because there’s an election coming – and the people are (justifiably) angry.

  • Matthew Pearson

    the levels of disillusion amongst most voters (the ones who don’t follow politics particularly closely) seem unprecedented these days. Most people (I talk to) believe politicians to be self serving greedy liars with no clue about how to improve the lives of ordinary (*hardworking* klaxon there) people. Politicians today are professional politicians, they didn’t do anything before politics (other than get a 2:1 from Oxbridge) and come from priviledged backgrounds and have little experience of life outside Westminster. This is of course stating the obvious, but what is much less obvious is to how to stop this rot and get people to belief (just a little bit) in the power of democracy.

  • PaulBurgin

    Two things come to mind here. Osborne has staked his political reputation on claiming that Labour trashed the economy and he will save it. Time is running out and he will work hard to make sure Labour does not take the popular lead. The second is that in politics we all (Tories, Labour, Lib Dems, UKIP) easily fall into the trap of thinking that our Party’s interests are the same as the national interest! Sometimes they are, but not always. Labour will be at it’s best and has been at it’s best when it represents a cross section of society and works to help the vulnerable and can articulate their fears and have remedies to hand

    • treborc1

      Well I would not put a bet on that happening any time soon.

  • Steve Stubbs

    Only flaw in Ed Balls proposal is the the OBR so far has proved to be a dismal failure in their task of accounting and forecasting. They are just another bunch of civil servants similar to the Treasury, where they haven’t got a forecast right in living memory. So any pronouncement by the OBR will not be worth the paper is is written on.

    Now if we could find an organisation that would be both independent of interference and accurate in their prognostications ………………………….

    • swatnan

      … such as the IMF?
      The OBR might be reluctant to engage in the fist fight, prefering to be an interested but bemused spectator.

      • Steve Stubbs

        Definately NOT the IMF!

        Since that French lady took over, they don’t even follow their own rules, and are clearly being politically driven by the EU.

    • John Ruddy

      You’re right that the OBR is damaged goods. However – they are Osborne’s damaged goods! If the OBR says that Labours plans are workable then thats as good as an admission from the Government.

  • Charlie_Mansell

    And the ‘anger’ expressed is actually very different for different groups of voters as the new IPPR pamphlet on the changing electorate shows: http://www.ippr.org/images/media/files/publication/2013/10/new-electorate-voter-values_Oct2013_11359.pdf We do need to learn to engage with the different forms of anger better. (Declaration of interest: I appear in the acknowledgements on the second page of the pamphlet)

  • http://www.stephennewton.com/ Stephen Newton

    We should beware signing up to have manifestos audited by the OBR or anybody else. To do so is to sign up to the economic orthodoxies of the day, to a consensus, when we should be challenging consensus on the way to making the world a better place.

    And while I understand wealthy older people have every right to feel aggrieved that they’ve been lied to, I don’t believe Labour should be about preserving inheritance rights. We should be about meritocracy.

    • RogerMcC

      Am I really going to have to spend the rest of my life pointing out over and over again that when Michael Young coined the term meritocracy in 1958 it was intended as a dystopian warning?

      Here’s the man himself in 2001:

      http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2001/jun/29/comment

      • http://www.stephennewton.com/ Stephen Newton

        Young’s critique of meritocracy is interesting and not to be dismissed out of hand, but it hardly supports your implication that I am wrong to have used the the word in the way I have. Even if I had ascribed a meaning to the word in conflict with Young’s, of more relevance is whether I have used the word in the way that is customary at present, as words change meaning often.The great lexicographer Dr Johnson will be spinning in his grave at your pedantry.

        • Alexwilliamz

          Meritocracy implies ‘rewards’ should be allocated according to merit, it therefore implies no opposition to highly unequal distributions, only that these should be through merit. Add to this the highly questionable nature of measuring or recognising what is meritable and we seem to have an interchangeable phrase for unfettered capitalism. If rather we mean that we should try and match social/business roles with those with the most appropriate skillsets, then i’m all for that, but not sure if that is really what meritocracy means. My concern is when there then follows the moral justification for splitting the pot in ever more incommensurable ways to reward ‘the best’.

          • http://www.stephennewton.com/ Stephen Newton

            That’s reasonable and, I guess, what Young is saying in a more roundabout way. You are right that those without merit (however merit is to be defined) should not be simply abandoned. However, inequality in the society in which we live is far more to do with one’s inherited place in the world (which will always be the biggest influence on our lives) than the education system described in Young’s dystopia.

          • Alexwilliamz

            Can’t disagree. I may be cynical but my gut tells me that any attempt at meritocracy will involve measures in which those with wealth will be able to skew in their favour. For it to have any chance of being ‘fairer’ the abolition of private schools would have to be the first move. Then the removal of elite universities ability to ‘select’ students through non objective and open means (interviews).

  • Sue Marsh

    Oooh, ooh, I’ve got one! (It may be Pokery)

    Like when the Tories consulted for well over a year on getting rid of DLA and replacing it with PIP but somehow “forgot” to tell anyone until the actual regulations were drafted that they were going to slash the mobility threshold from 50m to 20m? Meaning hundreds of thousands of the most profoundly disabled would not qualify for any help getting about any more?

    We took DWP to court and they backed down, but only to consult on that one issue. Despite near total opposition, they will almost certainly go ahead anyway.

  • Classic Movies

    There is a bigger question at hand here, one that rarely gets an airing. Namely, why has our democratic process become the monopoly of career politicians?

    Political parties have to evolve, if democracy is to survive as a concept.

    Political Parties have to become far more localized with regard to selection, for example, constituencies should only be represented by people who have lived in the same area for several years and who already have a history of working for the people they wish to represent.

    The entire career culture has to be broken up, MPs should not be allowed to carve careers in Parliament lasting decades. Fixed terms of ten working years in Parliament or on Councils would be a start.

  • Carolekins

    Another the govt have obfuscated on: when the sec 75 (Health and Social Care Act) was being debated, Tory lords fell over backwards to reassure people that Clinical Commissioning Groups could commission from whomever they wanted to, in spite of European competition regulation. THE REALITY: Monitor are now suing CCGs who have stuck with the NHS when commissioning.

  • edulike

    People are annoyed with politicians because they invent ways to make our lives worse and more complicated, whilst finding ways to make themselves richer. They also cannot be trusted with either their motives or their promises. It could be so much better…

    • reformist lickspittle

      So what is your solution?? Trendy, inchoate nihilism apart obviously ;)

      • edulike

        It would be better if they had done nothing than to have done what they did.
        My solution:
        1) MPs to have a salary of £100K. No second home allowance, just use of a block of accomodation nearby whenever they like. No other sources of income allowed, and no jobs in a related field like lobbying or a pressure group for 3 years after they stop being MP.
        2) Election to be held immediately if a governing party decides to do the opposite of what they promised in their manifesto, to be decided by an independent “corporate governance” panel. (For example, “No more top down restructuring of the NHS.”)
        3) No further tax legislation without the removal of two existing tax measures from the statute books.
        It’s a start.

      • treborc1

        Surely these careerist who travel from one seat to another in the hope of being selected should end, and the local party should have the final say on whom it wants to represent it. Maybe having a rota of men and then women MP’s. But we had the old parachute deployed in my area and it caused a mass walk out of the local party when the three women who were put forward were rejected.

    • JoeDM

      My feelings exactly !!!

  • Steve Stubbs

    I will vote for that. No more parachuting in of the Metropolitan elite close to election time. Mind you, where will that leave Ed ?

    • treborc1

      With a lot of Blair-ites with long knifes…

  • reformist lickspittle

    This fetishisation of “localism” as the cure for all our ills is getting ridiculous.

    Given your avatar, you must surely be aware there was NEVER a “golden age” where politicians didn’t represent seats other than their “own” areas – indeed, it was if anything *more* common in the “good old days”.

    Yes, there are too many “career politicians” – a major cause of that though is that most of the rest of us just sit on our a***es and whine and moan, rather than actually taking any action to change things.

    I don’t expect this to be my most popular post here, but it needs saying IMO.

    • treborc1

      I do not get that, of course people are career politicians why would they not be, is not being a politician these days a career, if not then you would get people coming doing one or two terms and then leaving to find a career.

      The issue is that people are now politicians with very little convictions Blair was a Tory, but perhaps felt he had a better change coming onto the Labour ship, same with Byrne you cannot call them socialist, then again how many in labour can you state these days as socialist.

      Miliband is center right not center left, we keep hoping he will go to the left while Progress and the Blair mob hope he will go New labour.

      The battle to make Labour socialist and to the left was lost many many years ago.

      £65,000 in wages means the people coming into politics these day will be eying the money not the debate about left or right.

  • Steve Stubbs

    “He doesn’t want the electorate to be voting based on fact or independent
    opinion, he wants the campaign instead to be waged over unverified
    attacks and politically biased assertion”

    OK so make election promises legally binding – or somehow at least give the public the ability to sue parties for making false promises in national manifestos and then not keeping them (e.g. student fees and the LibDems, or Cameron and EU Referendums ).

  • uglyfatbloke

    Stephen Newton…spot on.
    It is true that a great many MPs are much more honest, industrious and conscientious than we give them credit for, but there are always a lot more bad apples than anyone cares to admit
    OTH, when they get caught being dodgy they almost always get let off – generally by a careful realignment of goalposts – but sometimes they just brazen it out collectively. About half of our current MPs were unquestionably stealing money through the expenses scam, so how come they are n’t in jail? They would have been had it not been for a very selective interpretation of the rules and deciding to ignore the bit about expenses having to be strictly necessary for the benefit of constituents. I’m sure we all need our MPs to have pretty duck houses, clean moats and nicely-painted summer houses.

  • JCHC

    I’m wary of asking the OBR to ‘audit’ manifesto commitments for a number of reasons:
    - The head of the OBR is, ultimately, a political appointee; having such a function would inevitably encourage the governing party to replace the head of the OBR with someone more likely to model their manifesto commitments more favourably
    - The IFS already performs a similar service at no cost to the tax-payer. Why should such work be duplicated?
    - There are enormous distinctions between the way that the Conservatives and Labour would want their manifestos to be modelled, and huge differences in the assumptions that each would prefer used
    - The OBR has, like much of the economic forecasting body, already proven itself quite unable to provide accurate forward forecasts. Why should we trust any results they come out with?

    As such, I don’t agree that Osbourne’s reluctance to agree with Balls’ suggestion is petty. I do, on the other hand, think that automatically jumping to the conclusion that Osbourne was being petty is, well, petty.

  • alexagiusuk

    If Labour wants it’s economic plans independently audited they can submit them to an accountancy firm and pay for the service themselves! So typical of Labour that it wants to spend (waste) public money on it’s own self interest.

    • Alexwilliamz

      Fair point

  • BusyBeeBuzz

    Most people tell me that they hate politics because it’s boring. When I dig a bit deeper and explain that not all politics is party politics I get better responses. Most ordinary don’t understand how politics works. They quote the headlines and recall the dirty deeds. They didn’t listen to the millions who marched against the Iraq war. They recall the expenses scandal and see all MPs and greedy upper class twits. They feel struggle to make ends meet and don’t see any MPs standing up for them. They down another pint and say it’s best to ignore it all rather than get wound up about it.

    Today I think they might be right. Politicians say they want people to get exercise, eat healthily, grow their own veg in order to afford to live in austerity Britain. They also say that there is a shortage of allotments, so why are they forcing me to keep one?

    Sheffield City Council is dominated by Labour so you’d think they would be kind to Labour members. Dream on! Since Xmas Eve last year I have been bullied through the Atos WCA appeal. My benefits were reduced while I was appealing and 2 days before I was to attend the Magistrates Court SCC I received a letter from the Court demanding payment Council Tax. My boiler has gone so I have no hot water and no heating so I couldn’t soak my stressed head in a bath.

    Last Saturday I received a letter from a debt collection agency for non payment of allotment rent which I quit over the phone month before. SCC claim that I should have put it in writing. As I said to them “What if I couldn’t read or write? Why didn’t the person I spoke to on the phone (when I agreed to quit) tell me this?” After I quit they sent me a letter NOTICE TO QUIT. It’s like chucking a boyfriend and hearing them say “No I chucked you first.” They have increased the rent for the allotment to an unaffordable price which Sheffield folk are up in arms about and are bullying a disabled person for rent on an allotment which they won’t let me occupy. It’s like paying rent for a house that you are not allowed to live in! Sheffield has a FAIRNESS COMMISSION. They should acknowledge that this is not fair!

    Being a hot headed rebellious type I got in contact with the local newspaper and the regional head of the Allotment Society. As I said to him, I am prepared to go to Court to fight. It will cost them more money to take me to court if they don’t drop it and stop bullying me.

    It’s hard to relate to people who have no empathy for people who are going through a hard time.

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