Right. Rant o’clock.
This has been brewing for about the last four years but today I feel moved to actually put it down in writing. Might have something to do with the election announcement, or maybe it was triggered by an incident the other week:
I was doing some work with a local council (can’t say which one) helping their elected councillors to think about how they can use the web. We had a great conversation about the passion and commitment of some local residents and there was clearly a deep and enduring love from the councillors towards their home town, where they had lived for decades. THAT’S what politics should be all about. People who live somewhere standing up for their home and getting the best deal for the people that live there. Politicians should work tirelessly to represent their people, their electorate.
But the conversation quickly turned to the councillors’ nervousness about using social media. It wasn’t down to lack of IT confidence, it wasn’t down to scepticism about social media. It was about the petty party politics that is the stragling bindweed of democracy. They were too scared to use the web because the previous week a councillor had been hauled up before Standards Committee by councillors from the opposing party for using the wrong email address. Yes, that’s right. the councillor had inadvertantly sent out an email deemed to be political from his ‘.gov.uk’ account and had subsequently been disciplined for it. When councillors are newly elected they are usually given a laptop, a mobile phone, an email address and a broadband connection in order to carry out their duties. This is A Good Thing because if only people rich enough to afford these things could become politicians we’d have an even more unrepresentative system. But because the kit technically belongs to the council (not the politician or their party) they’re not allowed to use it for ‘political’ purposes. Which is really just ridiculous if you think about it because THEY’RE A POLITICIAN so by default everything they do is political. Every time they speak to a constituent it’s political.
So as a result they don’t do anything to engage online because they might get brought before some committee and have their wrists slapped, which will be reported with glee in the local press and bandied around by the opposing parties come election time. It’s not just one party that does this to another, it’s all of them. The very parties that are the foundation of our political system are basically stifling it with petty, malevolent vendettas that take time away from politicians actually serving the people.
It’s magnified on a national scale – the political digs, the smear campaigns, the bickering and cries of injustice (what social good could you have done instead of whinging at the BBC, Tories? And let’s not forget that Labour isn’t above it either). It’s a pernickity cacophany that has become like white noise to an increasingly disillusioned public. I don’t want to hear your minor complaints against your fellow politicians, I want to hear what you’ve done to represent me. I don’t care if the honourable gentleman has taken a minute longer in his speech than you got. GET OVER IT. The amount of time, not to mention energy, these clowns spend on their little one-upmanships and party skirmishes could be so much better spent building bridges and cooperation. Instead the parties generate a toxic mire of negativity that diverts energy and attention away from the issues that matter.
When will the parties realise that it doesn’t have to be about left and right, but that it should be about solving problems? I don’t think I’m the only voter turned off by politics – the schoolyard games of using the rules of bureaucracy against each other just don’t interest me. I care passionately about democracy and the issues that matter to me, but I don’t give a monkeys about party politics.
The parties have a slow death-grip on our system. They stifle innovation and risk-taking while reinforcing anachronistic rules. ‘Purdah’ is another example. When an election is announced all the public sector organisations grind to a halt. You can’t get anything done. You can’t launch new projects, you can’t make annoucements about cool new stuff, you can’t even arrange a meeting. Why? because the ‘Purdah’ rules state that public sector organisations have to be divorced from politics and can’t be seen to give any party an unfair advantage. So basically if, say, an NHS trust wants to launch an innovative project to address some serious issues on their agenda they have to wait for six weeks until they can do it until all this election business dies down. Because the NHS is run by the government. And the government is Labour, so if you announce that the NHS is doing something in the press then you’ve given Labour an unfair advantage and all the other politicians will bleat about it. It works the same in Conservative and Lib-Dem controlled councils. No party is immune. They can’t help themselves.
It’s shameful and childish and characteristic of people who have no ideas. I think pedantry can be important in some circumstances – pedants are usually the only people that care enough to uncover political scandals and keep things accountable. But a good pedant applies this quality to their own life, something which most politicians fail to do. Moreover, party politics rides roughshod over common sense becuase politicians are devoid of a sense of nuance.
It’s time for a new type of politics. One where people who work hard for their local area can get elected without having to belong to a party. One where local groups can campaign politically without breaking charitable status rules. For ultimately everything is political, just not party political. The sooner we loosen the noose that the out-of-touch, out-of-date parties have on our system the sooner people can have a voice, make a point and improve their lives for themselves. Call it de-regulating politics if you will.