I really, really, don’t like politicians.
It may surprise you to hear this from me, a political geek & campaigner, who counts several politicians as friends.
But it’s true, as a class, I really don’t like politicians – indeed, one of the key reasons I am a libertarian is that I don’t like other people telling me what to do. I don’t like others making decisions for me. I want to make my own decisions. If I got my way, the state would be much smaller, and politicians’ power would be much limited – making them an awful lot more tolerable.
However, whilst accepting this innate aversion to authority, I can’t help but think that even with government the size it is our political class could be a whole lot better.
A large proportion of the current lot are careerists. They went to university, worked for another MP – and possibly a think tank or a government department – and then stood for election.
There are people who have had ‘proper’ jobs in our parliament – lawyers, doctors, veterans, business owners, people who have had various jobs and careers – but the number is reducing all of the time.
While left wing commentators rail at the lack of women and ethnic minorities in the House of Commons, the professionalisation of our political class passes them by. The fact that politicians increasingly have similar backgrounds and speak in very similar ways – university educated political wonks – goes unnoticed by commentators. Male or female, white or BAME, increasing numbers of our MPs fit this description; perhaps the commentators don’t notice because they fit this description too.
But you’ve noticed, haven’t you? I think most people outside of the Westminster bubble have.
You’re to blame
I come with a quite distressing message for the people who moan about how they’re all the same, how awful politicians are, that they’re only out for themselves, and they’re out of touch.
It’s your fault. You are to blame.
Democracy comes from the Greek words demos – people – and kratos – power. People power. The whole system of democracy relies on an at least semi-informed and semi-engaged population, taking part in policy discussions and political debates throughout the electoral cycle, and participating in elections – not just putting an X in a box.
Instead, 66.1% of people voted in the general election last year. In the London elections this year, turnout was 45.3%. Across the generations engagement in politics is falling. There is some hope with younger people showing an interest in single-issue campaigns, but much of their engagement is ‘slacktivism’.
Membership of political parties has fallen off a cliff, and only a tiny minority of people in the UK engage in political campaigning which isn’t online.
The vast majority of adults in the UK are observers of politics, and often critics – not participants. They watch and read news, have the odd discussion with friends/family/colleagues, sign the odd online petition, and vote every now and then. They view politics as a product to rate, not something they have a responsibility to determine. What’s really galling for me is that the people who do all of this usually count themselves as informed & engaged.
So often people in the UK – and in other advanced democracies – decide they are too busy or too tired or too fed up to take part in politics. They delegate their role in the democratic process to other people. To the power hungry who seek election, the elite who make a tidy living out of commentating and lobbying, and the poor sods who give up their free time to deliver and canvass in all weathers.
When people delegate their role in democracy to a political elite, it isn’t surprising that the people who enter and succeed in politics are self-serving, paternalistic bores. Their route to power involves persuading other people within the political elite that they are just like them, then formulating a few snappy soundbites for the evening news and turning up at a few photo calls to show they care.
Why do you let them get away with it? Why do you sit by, picking the best of a bad lot as you do your duty and vote every few years? Why do you deceive yourself that watching, reading and being informed is enough?
Because it’s not. Low turnout and general disengagement is the reason we have rubbish, identikit politicians. You might say “they need to be better” or “they need to do more to engage the electorate”, but frankly, what a cop out! It’s not their democracy – it’s ours. And that means it’s up to us to change it, not wait for the self-interested political elite to suddenly develop a conscience.
If you want to get more involved in politics, Conservatives for Liberty is a good place to start – our mission is the change the Conservative Party into something much more palatable, competent and authentic than it currently is.
Emily is the Chairman of Conservatives for Liberty. Follow her on Twitter: @ThinkEmily
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty