Saturday, December 1, 2012

Politicians and the electorate

The  last couple of days seem to have been taken  up with ever more ridiculous arguments, mostly with members and supporters of UKIP, the party that after twenty years and in a particularly  helpful political climate do not seem to be able to bring out voters on their side. I am beginning to suspect that many of them do not want votes or seats in Westminster as that might catapult them  into biggish time politics where a frequent appearance by the Leader on the media is not a sign  of real achievement.

Those debates did, however, set me off musing on the whole problem of politicians and the electorate, something that many people have opinions. It seems to me that most of those opinions are wrong in that there is no evidential support for them.

One thing we can all agree on and that is the lacklustre performance of all parties in Britain, something that has been going on for a few years. Turn-outs in general elections tend to be not much higher than sixty-five per cent when it used to be in the high seventies and low eighties while in by-elections this has sunk to ridiculously low levels. This is largely a matter of choice on the part of the electorate but what is not clear, given the plethora of smaller parties, why that choice is being made in preference to voting for one of them.

One of the most easily disproved assertions is that people are tired of negative campaigning. Really? When did positive campaigning win anything? I am talking about both sides of the Pond; President Obama has recently won a second term after a campaign that seemed to consist of nothing but personal attacks on his opponent.

More seriously, there is a rather fuzzy opinion around that politicians would be more popular if they were more in touch with the people, were more like the man on the street, were more trustworthy and had had experience of being successful at something else than politics such as business or warfare. These are mutually incompatible, of course. A successful businessman or military commander is nothing  like the man in the street and being "in touch with the people", even if it were possible, would mean adopting some of the most obscurantist, illiberal and economically illiterate opinions. Too many of our politicians do that anyway. We do not want any more of that.

I strongly suspect that if the Leveson proposals were put to a referendum, there would be an overwhelming majority for state control of the media as people who buy those newspapers with the illegally acquired gossip rush to show their shock and horror at the practice. Thankfully, some politicians are not in touch with the popular mood on that.

In the past I covered some aspects of this subject, writing about the lack of evidence that people who have been successful in other fields will necessarily make good politicians or be able to have rational policies on those very fields; also about parties that set themselves up to field "real people" as candidates such as the Jury Team in 2009 and the Trust Party in 2010.

About the Jury Team I wrote:
We hear a great deal about the arrogance of politicians and all those who live in the Westminster/Brussels bubble. Indeed, I have written and spoken about it myself. But what of the arrogance of people who think that they should be in that bubble, make decisions that affect us all and generally throw their weight around without wanting either to slog through the party structure (fair enough if you do not believe in it) or to make the slightest effort to find out what is actually going on around them?
What on earth makes these people think that the world (or Britain or their region) is waiting breathlessly to hear their ignorant ideas on what needs to be done? At the very least, they could find out that the European Parliament does not function in the same way as the Westminster one does. Or about the treaties. Or about the European Communities Act. Or, or, or ….
That sort of arrogance of ignorance continues to appal me and, I hasten to add, the electorate as none of these parties get votes worth bothering about.

As for the Trust Party, the brainchild of Mr Stuart Wheeler, now Treasurer of UKIP:
Mr Wheeler and many others keep telling us that they want to restore faith in politics and politicians. Those are two different issues and one often precludes the other.
Certainly, it is time the people of this country grasped that politics is not a spectator sport. If you don't get involved it will come and grab you. This notion that somehow politics has nothing to do with us is a relatively recent one in Britain and has grown in tandem with faith in politicians. Leave it all to them and they will sort it out. Unfortunately, instead of sorting it out the politicians have brought this country to a point of destruction and the expenses scandal was, in a way, a wake-up call for many people not to trust those b******s any longer. In my opinion, that is an entirely healthy attitude. The last thing we want is a return to the somnolent attitude of the people trusting politicians.
The question of whether the electorate wants trustworthy politicians who are just like themselves brings us rather neatly back to UKIP. Certainly, many of their candidates would be described as "ordinary people" though whether they are in touch with the man or the woman in the street is a moot point. Yet their electoral achievements remain meagre. Even on the local level, the only way they get new councillors is by existing ones abandoning their own parties and going over to UKIP. When it comes to general and by-elections the results after twenty years are lamentable but we need not rehearse all that again.

Let me turn my blogging attention to the Leader of UKIP, one Nigel Farage. Again, we need not rehearse all the many problems there are with his leadership - many people have done so, not least the Boss of EU Referendum. On top of the cult or personality, the lack of strategic thinking, the propensity to make stupid off the cuff remarks in public and the refusal to do any homework there is the undoubted but rarely discussed fact that Nigel Farage is not a vote winner. He did stupendously badly in Buckingham, coming third in a two-horse race, as a disenchanted supporter put it, and even that plane crash did not bring in the sympathy vote. There is no evidence that his presence adds to UKIP's vote total and some that it actually detracts from it.

My American friends find this rather hard to understand as they see Mr Farage on TV and he seems personable, articulate and a good bloke who will tell it like it is. Surely that is just what the voters want. Apparently not.

The curious thing is that those American friends are right in a way. Farage is excellent on the media and his jack-the-lad persona is absolutely genuine, reflecting similar personae up and down the country. He really was a trader on the Metal Exchange, he really does like to drink and smoke cigarettes, he really does prefer to have his meetings in pubs, he really is a sort of a regular bloke with that regular bloke's propensity to bend the truth and forget about loyalties. He has many interests beyond the obvious ones, being, among other things, a knowledgeable amateur historian of the Western front in the First World War. (I know this from conversations with him.) In other words, he is not a bland, manufactured political puppet; what you see is what you get. And yet the electorate does not seem to want this.

Let us now look at their temporary Leader during the last general election: Lord Pearson of Rannoch. He, too, is not a bland, manufactured politician. In fact, he is not a politician at all but a man who believes certain things very strongly and insists on saying them. You would think that would go down well with an electorate that is allegedly tired of politicians sitting on the fence or trimming their sails to the prevailing political wind. Not a bit of it.

Lord Pearson is a toff but one who is not ashamed of it and that seems to work for Boris Johnson who hasn't an honest bone in his body. Pearson is a businessman who built up his own reinsurance business. He has worked hard for various charities and in the House of Lords for causes he believes in. He likes country sports, particularly fishing and shooting and owns a large estate in Scotland that is run as a business. I wrote about him in greater detail when he became Leader of UKIP.

The Conservative media's attack on him at the time had
nothing to do with him being upper-crust, which he is not or being involved in some country sports, which is not an upper-crust pastime in the country, especially not in Scotland. It has nothing to do with him being an old Etonian or with being on friendly terms with many political, business and social animals.
What it has to do with is the understanding that with all his various faults Lord Pearson is a man of principle. He is also a man of experience, having built up his own very successful business, running his estate as another business, setting up various charities and organizations that help charities and think-tanks financially.
He has helped Soviet and East European dissidents and victims of Islamist persecution; he was involved in the fight to save country sports and country businesses, particularly those that produce food; he has taken part in campaigns and set up organizations that help disabled children, their families and carers; he has defied all to bring Geert Wilders over to this country and to proclaim the importance of free speech; above all, he has fought the Euro-Monster for many years in the House of Lords, through his contacts in the business world and via determined correspondence with the BBC that is beginning to pay off.
Things did not work out too well, as we know, not least because the media that is always allegedly looking for "different" and "honourable" politicians gave him a peculiarly hard time. (To be fair, some of his own statements did not help.) Just as with Mr Farage so with Lord Pearson of Rannoch: what you see is what you get. Neither is a bland, manufactured politician but the kind of person the electorate is allegedly hungering for. Well, not so that you'd notice it is not. We surely get the politicians we deserve.

At this point I can hear readers muttering and shuffling their feet. All right, all right, they all say (I am not playing the numbers game) but what is it the electorate wants? What do you (I) suggest? That is just the point. I do not know either. What I do know is that there is no point in repeating the old shibboleths about what is wrong with modern politics because they are all wrong and have been proved to be wrong. Most definitely it is time to think anew and, as ever, it ought to be UKIP who does it as they have most to gain and to lose.


  1. No mention of FPTP . No mention of the Bought benefit vote for Liebour . No mention of the hostile biased BBC and Press assassination by journalists who are nothing more than cheerleaders for the LibLabCon . . No mention of the thick British voter who vote for more of the same from the blatantly failed Parties and then whinge there after . No mention of a thank you for UKIP at last and at least offering an alternative to the EU puppet Parties
    Admit one thing . A level playing field it ain't !

    1. +1,000,000!!! Absolutely spot on.

  2. I recall, several years ago, when I was still learning what the internet and blogs were, someone referenced Ortega y Gassett. It could even have been you, Helen! I went away, bought the paperback and read it. The idea that democracy failed when the majority voted for their own selfish ends was a bit of a revelation because until that point, I had always thought that everyone voted according to their principles for what they saw as the greater good as I did. Yes, I am a fool. Where now? I suspect that all we can hope for is much more of the same descending spiral.
    Education was trashed as soon as possible after the 1944 act. I still remember the extolling of comprehensive education and its creeping acceptance. It's results are to be seen around us, a huge majority who cannot begin to comprehend the issues they face at the ballot box in any way, but who 'know' that somebody should 'do' something to insulate them from any unpleasant consequences that life throws up. Hence the calibre and ethical values of successful politicians and the facile unpleasantness of both the print and broadcast media.
    Where to next? I am desperately trying to insulate myself and my family as much as possible, from the collapse to come by means of thrift, self sufficiency and an avoidance of any organisation with a vertical power structure. I doubt that it will be enough, there will always be a Lenin out there to, eventually, profit from ignorance and despair. I know I am going to end up as a Kulak. For now though, I must go and service my chainsaw ready for next week when I have to replenish the log pile. Thanks again for making me ponder, but next time can we try and make it something cheerful?

    1. Comprehensive (?) education. Hmm. Even aged 11, (I was in the 1st year where the 11 Plus was discontinued,) I could see that people had different capabilities.
      When I was aged 7, Mrs. Golightly knew how to handle kids like me when we didn't put in the effort she knew we were capable of. I was put in the 'B' stream for a term.
      Come age 11, I was deemed secondary modern material, not Grammar school. It was dismal and I slept, (literally,) through it, still passing the exams they deemed me capable of with ease.
      Much later I found that the infants school headmaster had said...
      "If there was an 11 plus, David would have gone to Grammar school but he just doesn't work hard enough"!
      I worked hard enough to keep up! what more do they want?
      Later, in tech college the Maths lecturer...
      "David doesn't work hard enough, yes, he gets lucky come exam time but he doesn't work like Paul *redacted* for instance."
      What a strange philosophy. Does anyone work harder than they need to to keep up?
      If they wanted me to work harder, they should have given me more work! I loved work!

  3. Contrary-wise, just what is it that makes people vote for the Lib/Lab/Con parties when, by all accounts, most people hate one or the other (usually all three) with a vengeance? The only reason I can possibly think why is that of profile - each and every political issue has TV and Radio commentary from the three main parties but UKIP are only consulted on the single issue of the EU - and even then, rarely.
    You may claim that UKIP are a one-trick pony but their manifesto proves otherwise.
    Should UKIP get the the same media attention as the others then the public would actually SEE there is an alternative.
    As usual it is the MSM/BBC pushing public opinion - and yes, the public ARE gullible.... present results prove that.

    1. Representative Government is failing everywhere with the possible exception of Switzerland, which has the only De Facto federal system. Basically the electorate is clueless, and why shouldn't they be? If one does make the effort to inform oneself,you are outvoted by those who don't. It is then only a matter of time before the political class discovers they can loot with impunity.
      If one wants a Republic, which really is a "Public Thing," civic life would have to be organized differently. Mainly, no entrenched political class.

  4. We have a crisis of democracy in that the parliamentary system has well passed it's shelf life. The parliamentary systems should have been seen as part of the struggle towards more democracy not the end of the struggle. Parliamentary democracy can no longer be described as such because democracy stops at parliaments doors. The people are now excluded from decision making and government and they know it and have lost hope and lost interest knowing that their influence does not matter other than superficially. The political elite and powerful vested interests now rule so that we have the "government of the people by the few for the few". The next step in the evolution towards true democracy has to be for the people to take power to themselves. In the way of this are politicians and political parties who should have the right of decision making and being able to form governments taken away from them. It is time to expunge parliaments of politicians and let them take their place with all the other vested interests and replace them with apolitical constituency representatives who by constant consultation with their constituents decide on all matters economic, social and political. It is possible that the people will at first at least be not much more able than the inept corrupt lot we have now at making decisions or governing us. However it will be us the people who govern us the people and given time and with increased involvement of all of the people that governance can only improve.

  5. A nice piece and a useful reminder of the modern trend to reduce issues to the crass and the simplistic and to fail to see the consequences of half baked ideas. Everyone thinks they are an expert. State control to stop all those nasty journalists nosing and prying? Oh yes they cry! But when you remind them that this means that MPs expenses and worse would have been difficult to expose, the response is "Ah well, but I mean, no they would have to allow..." etc . Voters do not seem to grasp that the real aim of any such legislation would not benefit them - it would benefit the powers that be and protect them from accountability and exposure while affecting to right a wrong. Surely part of the problem is that the voters see things through such a distorting and overwhelming filter of state radio and tv news and opinion (the 2 seem to be the same thing today). The real issues affecting us are demoted and often completely ignored while the media concentrates upon circuses and sideshows. And these offer too much competition with their superficial attractions. Having recently watched several editions of a British tv quiz show recently, I was struck by the fact that the contestants (intelligent teams of quizzers who know arcane facts and aspects of general knowledge) can all name litanies of past winners of Big Brother and X-Factor, but when asked the name of a relatively well-known (to us) current politician and given three options as to which party, they get it wrong every time!

  6. I'm confident that a large part of it is, as Douglas Adams and presumably many before wrote...

    "The last person you want as Galactic president is someone who WANTS the job!"

    I think that pertains right down to MP.

    I've been told I would be a good politician by people of different political persuasion to me, and that they would vote for me. I just don't want the job.

  7. Perhaps part of the answer to voter disengagement lies in the nature of modern government, or rather, overgovernment.
    One hundred years ago, governments didn't try to do as much, the issues were fewer and thus easier to understand. The ordinary bloke could afford the time to actually read the debates and look into issues.
    Governments today are so huge, and try (badly, BTW) to do so many things, that not even government ministers understand what their departments actually do. This reality is satirised in "Thick of It" and "Yes, Minister", but the satire is based on reality.
    It is thus logical (if regrettable) that today's voter tends to tune off from politics and government. Tuning in simply requires more time and intellect than the most people are willing to expend.