By Joshua Plume
I’ve now experienced being a university student for a whole year studying Politics and International Relations. The first lesson I learnt? Never introduce yourself saying you study politics, not unless you like eye-rolls, sighs and being told that you’re crazy.
I’ve put this knee-jerk reaction down to two reasons: Firstly people fear what they don’t understand and that’s due to no fault of their own. Secondly faith in politics has completely broken down so much in recent years. Allow me to elaborate.
The first point runs along the lines of this: how many people know much about our political system? How it works, who to vote for, how to find out what they really are voting for and so on? I’d like to say that even university students would be better educated in such matters, but in a survey I conducted last year on 50 random students in E block it transpired that 66% of them had never received any level of formal political education, and for those who had done.
This, for the most part, took the form of a module in PSHE. To make it even worse, despite students having a reputation for voicing their opinions whenever they’re not happy about something only 54% of the people I asked admitting to voting in the last general election: a couple citing reasons such as, and I quote, “Politicians talk rubbish, my vote won’t change anything”.
The second point runs in parallel to the first one in many ways: if you don’t know how the system runs and all you hear from the media is negative connotations, why would you have faith? I know it’s a clichéd example, but I draw attention to the expenses scandal that should still be lurking around in people’s memories. A more recent example can be seen
with Theresa May’s 14 dodged Abu Qatada questions. Briefly put: the current home secretary refused to answer 14 direct questions about the deportation of the radical Muslim preacher who is believed to have ties with the 7/7 bombings following his failed deportation due to a last minute plea to the European Courts. Turns out the government had the dates of appeal wrong. Honesty from a leading politician right there folks.
Now some people feel like this is inevitable: give people power and they corrupt. A politician is surely only going to care as far as getting enough votes in the next general election. After all, up to five years of job security with a good salary and free travel expenses, who would say no?
As long as a politician tows the party line they seem to do just fine. An example is the ex-Labour MP for my hometown Chris Mole: a Labour whip who changed his stance for the Iraq war from being against THE WAR to voting for it. When my class (we were 6th formers at the time) asked him why he changed his mind, he resorted to what all politicians seem apt to do. Be grey. Generalisations hiding behind “the party” rather than looking out for the interests of the people; and not being able to explain his own actions. That’s an MP who couldn’t answer a question given to him by teenagers at A school.
Another example would come from back home again, the MP. Dr. Therese Coffey who suffered backlash after proposing plans to introduce National Insurance to older workers and giving the money directly to younger people. What’s wrong with that I hear you cry? Well, considering the fact that over a quarter of her constituents are of the older generation, that’s hardly looking out for the best interests of your people. Now I’m ranting and raving but some people would think that this could never change. I’ve always liked the idea of changing it, but how could I?
That was until a friend introduced me to the brand new “democracy 2015” movement, which is still very much in the development stage: clay putty, if you will. After watching their YouTube video one can see that, from the off, they have two clear goals: transparency and honesty. Politicians become so engrossed in the “bigger picture” that they forget how the little people live: they become disassociated to the extent that they vote against the people they should be protecting. They even use large- scale events that distract the public to introduce dubious laws which should require further public scrutiny. For example; during the Olympics they made squatting a criminal offence, punishable by a custodial sentence or fine. Regardless of individual feelings on the matter, public opinion would have been torn, but it was smuggled through, and now we’re stuck with it regardless of whether it’s right or wrong.
Politics is an ugly business, and decisions have to be made that cannot and will not please everyone. Is that any reason to withhold knowledge of them though? We should be treated like adults. Why can’t we be told all of the policies which the government plans, and know the reasoning behind them? Surely only then, can open, honest scrutiny take place. Then, should a reasonable counter-argument be made, policies can be adapted. These are aims which Democracy 2015 hopes to achieve.
I know it sounds idealistic, but through educating people about the system can change happen. Is it better to hope for too much or be content with not enough? I’m tired of promises being backtracked upon because of “economic uncertainty during this difficult time”; promises are made which don’t get fulfilled for the simple reason that there was never the intention to. Not to say this occurs all of the time, but it can and does happen.
Although I sympathise with the Liberal Democrats being a minority part of the government; their complete failure with their student promises and more recently having the House of Lords reform blocked, whilst giving the Conservatives the easy street on the constituency boundaries changes, is nothing less than disgraceful.
The alternative: Labour, who are quite content sitting on their hands, twiddling their thumbs and criticising both coalition parties on anything they do. The same party who in 2010 bashed the Tories economic plans to great depths without actually having a plan of their own. What great choices we currently have.
There could be a third way. Democracy 2015 is neither a political party nor a pressure group, but a movement. The bigger this wave gets, the larger the splash. They’re currently accepting emails from the people asking what their biggest concerns are: deciding on the key principles to which they will hold themselves.
Regardless of what the end result will be, their methods are already established: be completely transparent, honest and accountable. I have no doubt it’ll be a difficult and eye-opening journey, but I for one have faith that something can change. Yes, people are going to be sceptical. Yes, I understand I’m optimistic and hopeful that this can work, it’s in such early days that it will either going to sink or swim.
But isn’t it a fantastic chance to have a part in something which could change this system for the better? A flaw has been glaring at us in the face for so long we’ve gotten used to it, why not change it? Hell, if we can pull this off maybe they’ll finally introduce video refs in football. But that’s probably being too hopeful.
If you would like to get involved, click here for more information.