I've had another response to my first blog on political apathy. After Joe kindly sent me his the other day, Josh sent me something adding to it, putting a slightly different slant on it. Anyway, it's great and I wanted to stick it up here!
Some immediate thoughts:
I think talking about politics as justice is a useful way of illuminating what we're talking about. I would say the main problem is there are too few differing conceptions of justice in our politics. That doesn't mean I just want people to imagine 'the good life' and fight for it in a prescriptive, abstract sense. That is just half of it. Fundamentally I mean conceptions of justice in a diagnostic sense, if that's not too arsey. That is to say, how one makes sense of the world. Take the 'Peoples Politician' program Josh mentions. It's clear from the program that people don't necessarily engage on the level of grand ideas; they want drains unblocked, bolders moved and so on. That's perfectly natural. The trouble is they have no story to tell themselves about why their drains remain unblocked (other than perhaps 'politicians don't care') – rather than, for instance, privatisations, sub-contracting or cut backs in public services. Blocked drains or pot-holes are taken in an individual, atomised sense – they aren't thought about collectively, as part of a wider political narrative. These issues are political, but they aren't politicised. Hope that's not putting too fine a point on it, but I hope this argument can take us away from the 'pragmatic bent v. intellectual glamour/grand visions' dichotomy Josh presents at the end.
The decline of trade unionism is difficult to avoid here, given it linked up the 'pragmatics' of politics and the wider, more socialist vision that was predominant in the Labour party until the late 1980s. This isn't a call to revive socialism or a hankering over the old battles of the 1970s per se, but I think we really feel the lack of alternative narratives and beyond the green movement, or some social democratic elements in Labour/Lib Dems, there is little prospect of this changing.
Anyway, i've done that angle to death. I think Josh is spot on to talk about levers. Efficacy is the key word here and it was implicitly flagged up throughout the 'Peoples Politician', too. People have to see that making the effort is worth it. Just how impotent most Mps are to effect the wider problems stares us in the face here, and we need to go beyond reductive ideas that re-balancing power between executive and legislature necessarily equals 'gridlock', but that's another discussion. I also agree that education is vital – what excuse is there to not be taught an overview of the different political ideologies, rather than just institutions, in secondary school or six form? I've heard it said that teachers will foist their own agenda on kids, but I don't see why that is unavoidable – it hasn't necessarily been so in other controversial areas, like RE or History.
That said, I can't help thinking that talk of education is too easy. If we both agree that civil tradition is vital and that the UK has too little of it, can something so deep seated simply be changed through education? I think the problems are fundamentally situated and perpetuated by our constitutional set up, which limits the influence people can have outside the ballot box. The solution is not just teaching people 'where power lies'; I think that fact is actually part of the problem.
On politics happening in Westminster; I disagree that this is really changing. The battles may be fought in ever changing spheres, but the war still unfolds in central London. The way it reaches us, which is what i'm most interested in here, is still predominantly filtered through the political-media class in Westminster. Mark Oaten touched on this – no matter where politicians go or on what platform (real or cyber) they speak, they always stop to think: “How will this play with colleagues, the media”, I.e Westminster. Furthermore that policy is formulated elsewhere doesnt mean people necessarily feel they can influence it there. More elected mayors might help things, but local politics actually has to matter to shift where we get our politics from so to speak, and in the context of huge centralisation, the hardly noble standing of councillors/local organisers and a withering of the local press, I'm not too hopeful. That said, the powers and position the London Mayor has in the cities concious is a source of optimism.
Anyway, i've once again written too much! Really appreciate the response and hope more will follow :-)