For decades, and particularly since the expenses scandal of 2009, politicians have grown steadily more despised – but why should they change?
An ICM poll, published in the Guardian on October the 13th, gave us some interesting information on the state of politics in October 2014. The party polling itself was fairly standard fare – the only real point to note is the expected 5-point increase in UKIP’s share in the wake of Douglas Carswell’s election in Clacton – but more interesting is the data on the leaders’ personal ratings, shown below:
Source: ICM for the Guardian
One point to raise straightaway is the absence of two individuals: Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party (expected, due to the outrageous anti-Green media bias) and Nick Clegg. Clegg’s absence is particularly telling – it demonstrates the total lack of regard given to the now-decimated Liberal Democrats. But more important still is the data itself.
Notice the numbers on the graphs. It will not escape your notice that they are all significantly below zero. Now, it is clear that certain leaders have strengths in certain areas: Farage leads significantly on perceived ability to understand the public and on perceived honesty, while Miliband is clearly ahead on looking after the interests of the many over the few.
Farage’s party, then, will use these data to improve their anti-establishment credentials; Labour will (cautiously, so as to avoid cries of ‘evil socialism) capitalise on the sense that they, not UKIP, are the true party of the working classes. Cameron will do his best not to mention them at all. But none of these approaches get to the real heart of the matter – and why would they? It is in the interests of all the neoliberal parties not to raise this question. So It’s going to have to be me.
The question is this: Why are our politicians so awful that we are having to differentiate between different degrees of negative publicity just to draw out some meaningful comparison?
At the end of the day, it shouldn’t matter that Ed Miliband is only 10 points below par at looking after the working classes while Farage and Cameron are 20 points below, because the key thing is this: They are ALL seen as terrible. Even ‘anti-establishment’, flavour-of-the-month UKIP has a leader seen as generally incapable across these three fairly broad categories. The fact that one leader might be slightly less bad than the other two should be irrelevant. The only reason it isn’t is because the leaders are more or less identical, so the minutiae become suddenly vital differentiators.
Why, then, do our political masters get away with being seen as universally useless? Sadly, the answer is because we let them. This most recent poll makes one thing clear – despite seeing their leaders (two potential Prime Ministers and a potential Deputy Prime Minister) as incompetent, 80% of the population who state they are likely to vote in May 2015 are planning to vote for either Labour, UKIP or the Conservatives. Add in the Lib Dems – whose neoliberal policies make them virtually identical to the other three, despite their current disfavour – and that’s 91%.
Even worse than this overwhelming lemming-style rush towards parties which these data prove we have no enthusiasm for is the number of people planning not to vote at all. The same poll shows that 23% of people rate themselves as 50% certain or less to vote, with 10% saying already that they definitely won’t. Results from past elections show that, on average, around a third of voters do not vote on polling day. I’ve spoken at length about voter apathy before, so i won’t wax lyrical about it here, but this also feeds into the overall issue.
That issue is this: Politicians won’t change, they won’t become any better than their current abysmal low, until we make them. And, much as Russell brand would have you believe otherwise, refusing to participate – tempting as it is – will not do that. Neither will voting for parties who espouse the same hypocritical, neoliberal-authoritarian post-Thatcherite political consensus as the Tories – and that includes UKIP as well as Labour and the Lib Dems.
The only way to force a change is to get involved. Campaign on issues which animate you, which make your blood boil; speak out when things occur in the world which are unfair; vote when polling day comes around, and for the Greens or the nationalists or any other party which challenges the status quo.
Don’t limit yourself just to voting – Brand is right about that: the once-every-five-years electoral ballot is the establishment’s way of keeping us quiet in between. Fight for the things you deserve and for what you believe in, and maybe – just maybe – we might get some politicians who aren’t universally reviled.
One can but hope.
This article is cross-posted to the author’s blog, Cynical Optimist