In recent years, many people have decried the body political. It has been called shambolic, accused of relapsing into mob rule, and has been denounced as ‘broken.’ But that is not true. In terms of voting, or ‘bums on seats,’ politics is doing well. In both the EU referendum and the US Presidential election, voting was up and, thanks to social media, interaction with politics is easier and more inclusive than ever.
Yet the drum beat continues – is our politics broken? The problem with this question is that it is the wrong one. Instead, we should be asking why we think our politics is broken. The answer is because ‘our side,’ the liberal leftists who support Labour, the LibDems and the Democrats in the US, are failing.
Why is this so? What has made our message so unpalatable to the communities we are meant to represent? Put simply, our problem solving abilities are deficient. The centre left presents solutions people are not interested in buying, while not being interested in the problems the people put to them concerning job losses and price rises.
These are personal issues – they may be the result of something global, but the truth is that people respond to issues only when they see them through their own perspective. If they see friends out of work or are unable to live the lifestyle they would like, they look to politicians who seem responsive.
In the US election of 1992, a debate was held between President George Bush and then Governor Bill Clinton, during which a woman asked Bush how the recession had affected him or people he knew. Bush was unable to answer because he didn’t understand, and resorted instead to speaking from a global point of view. Clinton’s response was to ask the questioner who she knew that was out of work or how she had been impacted, before going on to talk about people he knew who were in similar circumstances. This was a perfect demonstration of the issue that the left faces – instead of responding like Clinton, we are obfuscating like Bush.
Both Brexit and Trump, although ultimately coming from a populist, right-wing area of politics, was delivered by politicians who spoke like Bill Clinton – they acknowledged people’s fears and promised solutions. In 2016, Hillary Clinton talked about how she would make America better on the world stage, while Trump spoke to the unemployed coal miners of Pennsylvania and the rust belt. He answered their prayers and gave them hope for a brighter future, one he will nonetheless be unable to deliver. This is why those on the centre left, such as myself, consider politics to be broken. Our narrative is not compelling enough, and we are seen as promoting a flawed agenda rather than genuine solutions for the voters.
How can we fix this? To mend politics, we must again put the concerns of the people we hope to serve first and respect their hopes and fears when forming our policy. Instead of attempting to force our own ideology onto them and hoping they will vote for us, we must examine what their actual problem are. Most people in Britain or America don’t want to be actively involved in politics. They love to decry it, as is their right, yet they also want to be able to trust politicians to run their country in their interest.
This is how we can ‘fix politics.’ It isn’t about marches or social media campaigns or viral videos – it is about making our people, whatever their beliefs, their background, their desires, feel that they can trust us to do the right thing. We cannot let things reach a stage where they feel they need to turn to demagogues and populists who have no intention of making good on their promises. As the late Labour leader John Smith once said: ‘Give us the opportunity to serve our country. That is all we ask.’ This is the mantra that we should abide by until we can make good on our promises and serve all our citizens to the highest possible standard.