It hasn’t been usual for me in recent years to write purely about ‘politics’. One of the peculiar things about working in politics is finding there isn’t enough time or energy to really devote the time to talking about it publicly. However, there are a few things that have made me feel it is, without doubt, completely necessary.
It always feels like one is at the crossroads. Every single generation believes they invented political discontent, just like they invented sex, drugs and rock and roll. The most frightening thing about this generation is that it feels like, rather than political discontent, we’ve invented political apathy.
Along with many I am tired of hearing Russell Brand’s name but I’m afraid, just this once, you’ll have to forgive me.
The Brand of political discontent that is currently being peddled is that of apathy – the system stinks, it’s not for us, we can’t change it, and we should abandon it. Well, excuse me for putting this too bluntly, I’d like to see Russell Brand standing in front of UK workers in 1918 who had finally won the right to vote in the UK and tell them it wasn’t going to make any difference. You may not like the Labour Party, old chap, but there’s a reason why their share of seats in the House of Commons tripled between 1918 and the next general election in 1922.
Because, here’s the thing, it’s the people who elect the MPs who are represented by them. Older people and wealthier people are much, much more likely to vote than those struggling financially or the young. People often claim this lack of voting is limited to the youngest group, the under 25s, but this is absolutely untrue: 25-34-year-olds aren’t voting either. And, you’ve guessed it; these are the groups who are struggling the most.
Citizens who feel disenfranchised are the very people who need to use the system most to change their lives for the better. Policies are not designed for their benefit, Parliament and Government does not speak for them. Why would they when they’re not going to vote for them anyway? If you don’t exercise your democratic rights, they may as well not even exist.
And our culture has changed drastically over the last few decades, at the moment that culture change is breeding inactivity and apathy, but it doesn’t have to.
Newspapers‘ budgets have been slashed and this has forced them to refocus away from professional and highly skilled journalists producing well-researched and informative news coverage – to un-researched opinion pieces with little relationship to political reality. What’s more, the general public love it. The more outlandish the statement the more clicks it will receive from Twitter, Facebook and the like, the more Internet traffic the newspaper website (largely relying on advertising revenue) will receive.
Newspapers that don’t follow this model are forced behind a pay wall, meaning those individuals who can’t afford to pay are locked out of serious coverage and commentary.
Even the music industry is in on it. Decades ago rock stars were demanding that their fans became informed, knew their rights and fought for them. Now the music industry (even the alternative elements) has become so castrated by either the desperate need to sell records in an unfavourable market or the generalised public apathy, that even Johnny Rotten seems like a paragon of truth and virtue (I’m not sure what Joe Strummer would say…). Those who are still around, the fatted calves of the 1980s have become so detached from reality that they fly their hats across continents whilst campaigning against climate change. It’s no wonder young people feel disillusioned and powerless.
So, why do I say it doesn’t need to be this way? The reason that newspapers are struggling is that they are competing in a new age of technology – one where no one can keep you from becoming informed. We have access to information in a way that was unimaginable before. I’m not talking about trawling through biased blogs that reaffirm everything you already think is wrong with the world, I’m talking about access to real information.
If you want to know what is happening in Parliament – they publish everything – look. If you want to know what your MP really thinks, look at their voting record. If you want to know the truth about poverty, immigration, employment, education then go to the Office for National Statistics and look. Every topic that matters most to you will be there, without needing to be mediated by someone who believes they are smarter than you. If you don’t think this information is presented in the right way, find a new way to present it and get publishing.
When it comes to music, opinion, art, we now live in a world where self-publishing is as easy as pushing a button. If you have a message you want to put out there, bloody well do it. Don’t rely on someone to tell you what to think because they were married to some pop star or you’ve seen them on the telly. It is your responsibility; it’s your society.
I’ve seen people saying they can’t be heard without a newspaper column. What a monumental cop-out. The people that change things in this world aren’t sitting behind desks at the Guardian (no offence), they never have been. Also, what century are you living in? Set up a free website, get your friends together, create a collective and get writing.
Democracy is fragile; there are individuals and organisations that will always strive for more power and to ensure they benefit to your detriment. Don’t make it easy for them. It’s your right to have a say, you can be sure as hell even if you don’t, others will make sure their voices are heard.