Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Politics? Hmmm, make mine a cup of coffee.

Today the UK government announced plans to hire "super nannies" (child psychologists) to help deal with the growing issues around troublesome youth by looking at providing parenting training in troubled areas.

The BBC stated that a Mori poll for the Home Office showed that 85% of respondents blamed poor parenting on problems with youths. It was presented to imply that both items were linked - I hope not.

Parenting may or may not be the cause of the problem, but is general opinion that relevant? I'd prefer drug trials over a Mori poll asking "Do you think this new drug is safe?"

In much the same way we should be first studying the cause - parenting, breakdown in community, rise of the illusion of individualism, advertising pressure, disengagement with society, exposure to violence or fear or no change at all just a greater awareness - rather than acting on popular opinion.

This work may have been done, but no mention is given - just merely lots of polls.

But then this leads onto another problem at the moment. The growing illusion of political activism. In the UK, for the last two decades political activism has been in severe decline - to the point that electoral turn-out makes record lows a norm.

There has been active disengagement of the population from politics, from the anti-politic trend being fashionable to the "one person can't make a difference" myths - which singlehandedly ignores most of our history.

In some circles it is argued that political activism has in fact grown but in other non-traditional forms i.e. involvement in environmental groups, local planning campaigns (NIMBYs), signing petitions, attending a march, not buying certain products etc.

Yes, you've guessed it - when I'm buying my fair-trade coffee I'm making a political statement!

The widening of what is political activism, combined with polls etc - creates an illusion of a politically active culture despite the fact that little political debate (as opposed to personality debate) exists within government, there is lack of any clear distinction between the parties and no big ideologies or visions of the future (the joke of course is the big idea behind labour's third way is not having a big idea).

In such an environment with a decline in voter turnout and party membership - you have political exhaustion not activism. With no vision of the future you have efficient tinkering rather than effective action.

But what can politics do today? Governments are subservient to the global economy and globalisation! Of course they are not in reality, they instead choose to be - we're a 60 million person country with its own legal and social structure - market economics is merely a tool not an overpowering force.

I am not advocating reckless change, but with a vision for the future of our society then we should not be fearful of necessary change or feel limited or controlled by that which society could change if it had the will to do so.

But that's the crux of the matter, the will doesn't exist and nor does the vision and so we seem to choose not to change but to instead run a steady ship with no idea of where we are going. We have surrended our grand social experiment called democracy and allowed our fear of change to paralyse us so that these days the great debates are whether detention should be 28 days or 90 days or whether we provide educational vouchers or not?

The time is right for a vision for the future, bold and brave politicians not afraid of change and a re-evaluation of our assumptions of the limits to our political and social systems.

In the meantime I'm going to buy some coffee.

Notch another one up for political activism.