In the most important election of a generation (at least since the last most important election of a generation) I have seen one poster during my walks around the local area. It was hidden in a side street down the side of a house where the entrance to the road had been blocked up while months of bridge repairs are to be carried out. It took me some trouble to find it.
As the ground war sees this mass public engagement I have throughout the months since the referendum now received four leaflets.
Two are from the SNP (one sent by post).
Two are from Labour (both delivered by activists).
There’s been nothing from any of the others (unless the kids threw them all in the bin).
No-one stopped to talk when delivering. There was no door knocking, no attempts to canvass. None of the leaflets contains much in the way of policy positions. They do though have pictures of the candidates standing in front of local things looking concerned. Brows furrowed. Both are men in suits. Both are men with glasses. As a myopic suit wearer I feel well served by the candidate choice – but both appear to operate in a world where policy is nothing.
One leaflet has the candidate standing outside the local primary school urging a vote to improve local education. That education is devolved and not an issue in this election says one thing – the candidate is too stupid to be elected (which won’t stop the electorate). That he felt this pose appropriate as his party in government has presided over declining literacy and numeracy performance (with substantial drops for those coming from the most deprived backgrounds – a group served to a large extent by the school) also says something about the campaign. Schools are good. Detail and policy less so. Some self awareness, and consciousness of what he is actually standing to be elected to, should maybe have suggested this was an issue he’d have been better not flagging up in his local pitch to voters.
The other lot have quotes from various people helped by their candidate, the sitting MP, which resolve into an apparent policy heavy assertion that he’s a bloody good bloke, operating as he does in a policy vacuum as he fulfils a role as a glorified social worker.
What do these people stand for? I have no idea. I have determined that they definitely stand for standing in front of local landmarks looking concerned, but I have no idea what motivates them. Why are they in politics? What do they want to achieve? Why do they think that they are worthy of our trust?
So despite the fact that we are, in theory, voting for a local representative – with a dearth of information, with gaping voids where one would hope to find substance, what is that vote to be based on?
To decide we must turn to the national campaigns.
These campaigns have been informative. The first few months of the year was spent asking whether or not there should be debates, and if there should be debates what form should they take? Everyone was in favour of debates. But some were more in favour of debates than others. The debates having taken place – no-one remembers anything about them – unless you are an obsessive activist tracking every utterance from every politician you don’t like for a multiple retweet worthy 140 character or so utterance accompanied by a picture with a quote on it (usually devoid of context and inaccurate).
Once the argument about the debate shad finished argument moved on to what would happen after the election. Who would work with who. Who wouldn’t work with who. Who would say they wouldn’t work with someone while planning to work with them. Who would say they wouldn’t work with someone while planning to work with everyone. That’s been the coverage for the past few weeks. An endless regurgitation of denials and assertions, and assertions and denials of those denials and assertions vomited on to the airwaves – revisited and sniffed by the media hounds every morning, and every afternoon, and every night. This is politics today. twenty hour news about nothing, with no reflection, minimal analysis.
And when leaders appear (the people who operate in specific areas hidden away from sight being interviewed by Andrew Neil in the middle of the day before an audience of half a dozen obsessives and a goldfish called Gerald) there is little scrutiny. Little examination of records. Or aspirations. Pre-rehearsed lines evade and avoid – although there is no criminal sanction for the former, or moral condemnation of the latter.
And so campaigns are reduced to three or four single sentence caricatures. There is no nuance. There is no acknowledgment of complexity. There is little engagement with reality (witness the questions asking “where will the money come from?” “Our record shows we will find it” or “There is no black hole”). And nuance and complexity and reality is avoided because it might scare some people who would vote for you into voting for someone else who eschews nuance and complexity and reality.
The assumption underpinning this is that people can’t handle complexity. They can’t handle difficulty. So best not bother them with it.
This is the situation we’re voting in.
Is it any wonder people vote negatively because someone has caricatured the argument of an opponent in a way that presses the panic button?
Is it any wonder people vote positively with no idea what they are actually voting for other than some vague aspiration the party doesn’t want to happen?
Is it any wonder people don’t vote?
They say that the public get the politicians we deserve. Maybe this time the public can ensure that the politicians get the Parliament they deserve – a Parliament where no-one can do anything. A Parliament where legislation is impossible.
We have a very good civil service. Life will carry on. Vote for benign neglect.