Friday, 23 April 2010

Asking the voters

I do sometimes wonder about the intelligence levels of the Great British Public, especially during an election campaign*. Asked for their opinion on the different offerings, the best they can come up with is "Well, they're all the same really, aren't they?" or "I like that Mr Clegg, he's got an honest face."

Of course if someone's jumped on in the street by a journo as they're off to the supermarket, they don't have time to think carefully about the questions they're asked. Even so, you assume they'd have some considered views about how the country's governed and how the politicians deal with such basic things as poverty and unemployment.

I'm always waiting for someone to say "Well, anyone earning under £10,000 shouldn't have to pay tax" or "If everyone worked part-time, there'd be more jobs." Or something that actually amounts to an interesting idea rather than a vacuous comment.

But no, it's like trying to get blood out of a stone. An alarming number of people give the impression their political awareness goes no farther than whether their wheelie bin's been emptied. No wonder the MPs managed to get away with such rampant expenses-fiddling for so long.

It may be that in private people are more intelligent than they seem in public. Maybe in their own houses they wax eloquent on the finer points of asylum-seeking or maternity benefits or medical treatment, but outside they keep their trenchant views to themselves.

Mind you, when so many politicians are habitually evasive and dishonest about their intentions, and seldom tell you the truth about anything, whether it's the cost of nuclear missiles or their receding hairlines, it's not surprising if people are too sickened to take more interest in politics and form mature opinions about the issues.

Sometimes I have to sympathise with those who can't switch off the party political broadcasts fast enough in favour of something more life-enhancing like a box of chocolates or a blast of Lady Gaga.

*The UK general election is on May 6. The three biggest parties are Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat. Right now they are equally popular and the result could be a hung parliament. One or two Green MPs may be elected for the first time.

25 comments:

Leah said...

I'm always amazed at the level of man-in-the-street political opinions here too. Shocking really. But then, not to be totally snide, you really have to think about the Bell Curve, don't you?

anyway, I'm sickened by the state of politics, but still take an interest and do my research and form opinions. It's too easy to wave one's hand and say, well it's all corrupt anyway, so why should I care about any of it? Although that may be true, I agree that it's not excuse to turn away from the issues...

Wisewebwoman said...

My inner geezer thinks politics was far mpre trenchant in my father's time.
I think everyone is jaded by the ongoing corruption and exposes and choosing a nice face is the only hope in a seedy world.
All our political systems are what we deserve. I vote Green but I'm crying in the wilderness and I know it.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

Leah - Indeed, I always make a point of voting because the right to vote was so hard-won over so many years. Ignoring politics simply helps the most regressive parties to stay in power. In London I used to vote Green, here I usually vote Alliance, which is the non-sectarian cross-community party, or Green. I would like to see compulsory voting in the UK.

www - Nice faces can be very deceptive. Everyone thought Tony Blair had a nice face and now look at his dreadful record. Quite right to vote Green if that's the party you genuinely believe in.

Jenny Muir said...

Sometimes I really do think people get the politics they deserve.

Nick said...

Jenny - Indeed. People voted for Mrs Thatcher out of sheer greed and selfishness and we're still paying the price 30 years later in the decline of public services and appalling levels of poverty.

tattytiara said...

You have a point. A person does have to wonder if having an extensive knowledge of political candidates amounts to anything more than just having an extensive mental catalog of lies and hyperbole.

Suburbia said...

If people bother to vote Nick, apathy a plenty

Nick said...

Tattytiara - True. Which set of lies should I vote for, I wonder? Probably the only reliable indicator is what the parties have actually done in the past.

Suburbia - Apathy is a big problem. Turnout is going down steadily from one election to the next, I think mainly because people don't believe their vote will bring any real change.

Rummuser said...

Nick, we call our politicians 'Netas'. In Hindi, literally leader, and in all Indian languages the same implication is expressed. In common parlance, a political leader, and thus someone believed to be venal, power hungry, corrupt and willing to ruin the country's future fo rhis or her political present. This definition is from a booklet published by Penguin as an addition to their latest offering 'India Essentials' Almost all Indians will agree wholeheartedly with this definition. Let me take you to an interesting article which links our Netas with the British situation - http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/opinion/editorial/Neta-next-door/articleshow/5851305.cms

In India too, the same apathy or superficial responses can be seen on our hysterical TV media. The common Indian simply does not care to choose as the Netas are all the same in his opinion. If you ask me, I think a fairly knowledgeable fellow, when I am on a shopping trip a similar question, I would say exactly the same thing as most Brits seem to be. There is hardly anything to choose between the lot. India's recent success story, I am convinced is despite the Netas and I for one, do not mind who gets to rule as long as the present situation of the Netas being pushed into doing some good things by vested interests, continues.

Nick said...

Ramana - I think most Britons would be shocked at the Indian idea that politicians are expected to live a life of luxury and privilege while ordinary mortals grub along as best they can.

I agree that when a country is thriving it's often because of enterprising individuals and businesses rather than what the fumbling politicians are doing.

But I don't agree that "they're all the same". Certainly in Britain the Conservatives have always been keener on subsidising businesses and slashing public spending.

Liz said...

My trouble is that I tend to go on instinct rather than logic.

Macy said...

I've got a theory that if any of the punters asked for a voxpop actually came out with anything remotely intersting, then the clip wouldn't be used.

Nick said...

Liz - Instinct is not to be sniffed at. It can sometimes be more reliable than any amount of hard thinking.

Macy - I think that's often true. The journos would rather an inflammatory cliché than a properly thought-out opinion.

Brighid said...

I feel so bombarded with trashy "news" that logical reflection is nearly impossible. I vote every chance I get, one little voice in the wind....

Nick said...

Brighid - True, with the politicians (and their media supporters) spewing out so many fibs and half-truths, it's hard to work out what's really happening. It's like driving through a dense fog....

RubyTwoShoes said...

Wow, you have quite a considered amount of optimism to hope people think differently privately, i wished I shared the lack of cynicism.
Great point re part time work!

Nick said...

Ruby - G'day to you, Sydneysider!Well, people's private thoughts may not be any more sophisticated, but I guess they may be more uninhibited than what they say to Mr Pollster or Ms Paid-Hack.

niamh said...

Sometimes I think people are slow to comment as they are afraid of not being knowledgeable enough. Thing is we have a vote so everyone's opinion should count. I've noticed though that people who're interviewed on radio seem to have more to say - hidden from view.

Nick said...

Naimh - Interesting that people are more forthcoming on radio, I hadn't noticed that. As you say, probably because they can't be seen.

Los Angelista said...

I read it was the first televised debate in the UK and I found that amazing given how hyped televised debates are here in the States. That said, no, the average person doesn't really know what's what - which is why it's so easy to tell us anything and we'll believe it. We need more independent investigation of the truth!

Nick said...

LA Liz - More independent investigation of the truth is badly needed. So many journos just repeat what they're told by politicians and "experts" without checking it out for themselves.

secret agent woman said...

It's frightening, really, how little thought most people put into voting.

Nick said...

Secret Agent - Some people don't think at all, they just vote on impulse or on the candidates' looks or the way their mum votes. Frightening indeed.

Scarlet Blue said...

Perhaps people have more 'extreme' views' in the privacy of their own homes... and are aware that these views aren't politically correct - so they keep their gobs shut!
I will be voting liberal [no I'm not jumping on a bandwagon, I have voted this way for a few years now] because I strongly believe in electoral reform. I also believe in voting for what you believe in... if everyone votes tactically then our views are truly skewed.
Sx

Nick said...

Scarlet - I'm sure you're right about all the politically incorrect opinions! The sudden surge in Lib Dem support is amazing. I would like to see electoral reform as well, first-past-the-post is deeply undemocratic.