I heard Analysis today on BBC Radio 4, which dealt with the subject of community. They talked about how the UK government wants to involve more people in politics by devolving power to local communities; but their powers are minute and lack funding. In that regard it’s not serious.
I personally don’t think that an artificial involvement of people in local issues will increase people’s interest in politics. This sort of thinking belongs to a time that has passed. In the 60s and 70s people became members of political parties, and gradually moved up the ladder to higher politics. The legitimacy of politics and the ideological debates came from within the political parties. This is no longer so. This is not the route most people would like to take.
People nowadays are engaged various charity works, or in focus groups, or in their own work. They care about society and its future, and would like make their contributions to it, however they don’t want to do it by joining a political party. The future of politics will therefore lay in tapping into those networks and harnessing their expertise and energy. It’s a total paradigm shift, from expecting people to approach the political machinery to politicians searching out people that can be consulted on the issues at hand.
Another related point is how matters are dealt with and solved. People today are not interested in politics because politicians seem more concerned with scoring party political points than solving issues on a deeper level. For politics to come alive again, politicians will have to work on solving problems holistically; i.e. working for society as a whole rather than for a lobby group or a pressure group. They might even have to cooperate between party lines (scary thought!), and my feeling is that they would command more respect if they did.
Governance has probably always been a sort of balancing act, although it’s maybe more so today than previously. The calculation governments seems to be making is between the balance of gain and pain; i.e. how much gain can we get, and how much pain can we tolerate? Media is one factor in this. Although they do a great service in scrutinising politics, they thrive on sensationalism, and thus they are eager to create controversies where there is none. Often politics feels like a tennis match between politicians and the media, and so the general public become reduced to mere spectators to this fascinating game. No wonder people have lost interest.
So creating small community groups that can decide how the playgrounds can look like and where they should be can be of some use, but it will not solve the issue of public apathy for politics in general. For change to happen we need to think anew. Sorry, there are no shortcuts…