How To Stop The Dumbing Down Of Politics

Most of us are guilty of giving politicians an easy ride - but that has got to change if we actually want to see anything different occur...
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Political analysis is cheap. From national newspaper columns to obscure magazine articles and humble blog posts, there's no shortage of writers who have taken the plunge into the murky political waters and come up clutching something shiny. The sad truth is, however, that these writers and those that read their work are in the minority. For most people politics is a thing to complain about, to grumble about, but never to become interested in.

A study performed earlier this year by the Hansard Society revealed that only 42% of people say they're interested in politics. This phenomenon be seen on the box too: Question Time, Britain's most popular political programme, gets an average viewer count of just 2.7 million. That would put it, going by the latest viewing figures released by the BARB (for the 3rd - 9th September) way outside the top 30 viewed shows in a week, with number 30 racking up 3.57 million viewers. Elsewhere, Newsnight – perhaps the most in-depth political show available on broadcast television – last year saw its audience hit a record low, with an average of just 450,000 people tuning in.

The result of this prevailing apathy is that important details get diluted. Many of us may roll our eyes at the generic guff generated in the run up to elections but, in a world where political messages only reach many people in the form of 30 second newsbytes, it's hard to complain. The fact that politicians spend more time coming up with pithy slogans than they do on generating meaningful policy plans is almost a given: after all, the business of acquiring the majority of votes is more about winning lazy hearts and minds than it is about appeasing those who actually give a damn, allowing facts and figures to be replaced with rhetoric that may sound impressive but is, on the whole, hollow. Even party manifestos aren't safe: with a public that is all too ready to absorb sweeping statements, these documents, supposed to be a safe haven for detail, now read more like holiday brochures promising 5 star accommodation (the kind that houses cockroaches under the floorboards).

When politicians, in two years time, roll out the same old drivel, it is up to us to mount a response. Instead of rolling over at the first hint of flowery language, we must all put on a stern, unimpressed face and demand that we see the transparent truth.

Politics, when it comes down to it, is all about precision. Sure, you may preach a well meaning vision to turn around a failing economy (which will be lapped up by voters), but if you haven't worked out a full plan complete with dotted Is and crossed Ts then all you have is a recipe for disaster. And yet it goes on, and it can be seen in the broken promises of countless politicians. The most topical is of course Nick Clegg, and his promise of abolishing tuition fees. Clegg's real crime, I believe, is not that he broke the promise, but that he made it in the first place. In a time where our economy was failing, he made a sensational promise that he must've known he simply could not keep.

He laid the bait and we pounced on it like an over-eager school of Mountain Trout, praising him for safeguarding our young people's education and boosting his poll ratings beyond recognition (one Times poll had him at 60% during the 2010 election run up). We fell prey to the kind of smooth  appeal that we should be fighting against – all because we didn't demand the details. If we had really questioned the number-crunching then we could have saved ourselves a whole lot of time and emotional investment.

I think we forget sometimes that the decisions that politicians make affect us all in our everyday lives. Taking a step back – disconnecting ourselves from those in power – will mean that the quality of our elected officials nosedives, and we'll be the ones on the ground taking the hit. We need politicians who will keep promises: ones who will create detailed, watertight plans that we can all believe in. To achieve this requires an intellectual assault by the general public. It is hard to get excited about politics in its current form, but a little investment will go a long way in the future.

When politicians, in two years time, roll out the same old drivel, it is up to us to mount a response. Instead of rolling over at the first hint of flowery language, we must all put on a stern, unimpressed face and demand that we see the transparent truth. We must poke and prod at politicians until they're so covered in bruises that they are forced to tell all; forced to reveal the fine print of their ideas so that we can separate the political wheat from the chaff. This requires us to arm ourselves with knowledge and strong opinions, weapons that can be readily found on the internet and in print. Political analysis may be cheap, but that doesn't mean that it should be ignored. Going beyond the headlines is easy – and worth it.

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