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We aren’t serious about politics



Bringing a knife to a gun fight is one mistake. Throwing the knife away and resorting to your fists is an even greater act of self-sabotage. Alas, the Green Party in 2024 proposes that the UK should unilaterally dispose of its nuclear deterrent, the party argues this decision would lead to world peace. Quite a jump from the premise to its conclusion. 


One of the unfortunate consequences of our populist times is that being seen to be solving an issue  is preferred to actually taking steps to solving it. Symbolic action is preferred to incremental, meaningful change. The Conservative Party’s Rwanda springs to mind, with a border wall a masterwork of pure theatre. Our collective unseriousness toward politics has reduced our public discourse to gestures and soundbites. We must begin to take politics more seriously again. 


Populism is often defined by the division of the elite and people. Yet, perhaps what is more noteworthy is the affinity to image over substance. Populists are great performers. Rarely are they competent governors. Trump passed one major act of legislation: a tax cut any Republican could have passed which expires in 2025. Boris Johnson claimed an 80-seat majority only to throw it away for some work drinks at the infamous Lockdown parties. His legacy: a Brexit deal, the British people now regret. Corbyn’s name echoed across Glastonbury. Voters told him to go home. 


Practical concerns are no restraint to these campaigners’ imaginations. No, for populists, practicalities are the obstructions of the establishment. The fight itself, not the solution, is what the campaigner rejoices in. The border in the Irish sea, necessitated by leaving the Single Market and rejecting a hard border in Ireland did not concern Johnson. He preferred gestures of sovereignty. Brexiteers never bothered to formulate a clear plan for the exit agreement prior to the referendum nor after. Theresa May enacted Article 50 before there was a consensus on the terms the UK should seek. In what world does it make sense to completely upend your economic and political institutions without any semblance of what they will be replaced with?


And this takes us back to the Greens. A serious party tackling nuclear proliferation would propose multilateral negotiations over the course of many years, if not decades, not unilateral action. Furthermore, retreating from NATO after Russia has embarked on the first land invasion on Europe since the Cold War is  the move of a fundamentally unserious party, whose main motive is activism rather than policy. 


Parties are turning to gimmicks and distractions. And how could we expect any less? In the first TV debate, Starmer and Sunak were given no more than forty-five seconds to discuss climate change, the cost of living and the NHS. For some questions they could only raise their hand. I half expected a Kahoot to cap off the night. What was learnt by the end of the hour? Very little. Sunak’s only memorable statement was a lie and Starmer provided no substance.


A TikTok debate for TikTok politics. Politicians cannot be straight with us in reels. Nor can we learn anything in that time. Proper answers to astute questions are needed. Andrew Neil’s 2019 interviews were far superior. Under his repeated questioning, Corbyn appeared restless and arrogant. Boris Johnson’s entire avoidance of the interview demonstrated his distaste for detail and accountability, traits which would define his leadership. Although, at only half an hour long, too few topics were covered. 


Nick Robinson’s interviews were closer to the mark but again too short and lacking in substance. Nowadays, most political interviews are a tussle of vagaries and claims of hypocrisy. Shallowness is a product of interviewers who are political editors, not subject experts. Nick is predisposed to viewing policy through the lens of Whitehall and parliament, not the issue itself. On questions of the economy, an economist is needed to properly scrutinise the answer and a PPE degree from the 80s doesn’t cut it. 


And questions from the audience must stop. The first half of the answer is always addressed to the questioner themselves. “Can I just say how sorry I am to hear your family is struggling at this time.” Yes, we get  that  you’re sorry, you’ve stalled sufficiently, now answer how you plan on helping them. Get rid of the audience, prevent the politicians from skirting the question and focus on the issue. Policy and substance must be given more weight. No politician is going to admit they’re a dishonest crook; asking them about integrity is a waste of time. Their actions reveal their character, it is policy which must be discussed.


Most job interviews involve the applicant sitting in front of a panel of people who perform the job they are hiring for. The interviewers understand the subject area and ask technical questions to ensure the candidate can do the job,  usually lasting for an hour. For some reason, we lower standards for our politicians. Deliver a forty-five second, pre-prepared speech and you are now deemed sufficiently competent. Filtering candidates using the methods of the Oxford Union subjects us to a species of politician trained to bullshit. 


The vast share of the responsibility lies with the media. In response to the populist turn, they have shied away from incisive interrogation for fear of being labelled as   obstructing the will of the people. However, they are not the only guilty party. We must admit our own culpability for the unseriousness with which we regard modern-day politics. Today, nearly 30% of people would rather get their information from social media than a book or newspaper. Podcasts have a place in media but are no substitute for the written word. This is not to mention the dominance of reels and TikTok, parasites on our attention and cancers on our intellect. 

 

Politics is serious business. It’s time we started treating it with the seriousness it deserves. Stop the football questions. Put down TikTok. Let’s sit down and have a serious discussion about the problems we face and what to do about them.



Image: UK Parliament

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