Friday, May 18, 2007

Rebuilding trust. A fools errand.

Shuggy on Gordon Brown's pledge to 'rebuild people's trust in democracy'
"Now call me an old cynic if you must but could one of the reasons that people 'feel powerless' is because they are really rather powerless - with regards to basic democratic stuff like who governs them, for example?"
He then turns to Hillary Benn pledging to join the army of 'listening' politicians:
"Let the debate begin. Let us discuss ideas. Let us talk straightforwardly about the future we want."

Ooh, ooh - can I go? I'd like a future where you lot talk less shite, please.
Thing is, I think that Shuggy IS being an old cynic here, bless him.

Of course politicians will always promise to listen, and always pretend to be doing it already. But if they actually *do* start listening, they will find themselves on a fools errand, because there isn't really much by way of a decent conversation going on anywhere (outside of the usual rarefied little circles - and even then, it's mostly poisoned by The Ideology of Applied Adolescence(tm)).

And if they are tempted to get involved, they are massively disincentivised from doing so by….
  • A spectacularly dishonest journalistic profession that usually strikes a fine balance between misrepresentation and simplification
  • Single issue pressure groups that target anyone who displeases them
  • Political parties who worry about reflected ignominy
  • Our old friends, the constipators and the other poky little fingers of permanent government
And the circles in which these conversation happen are very rarefied anyway.

To illustrate this, last night I met a bloke from Messagespace. This is a marketing widget that the high-volume political bloggers use to make a bit of money from ‘advocacy advertising’. He gave me a number (that I now completely forget - prompt??). It is the number of visitors that political blogs get each month.

The only thing I do remember about it is that it wasn’t very high. And even allowing for the logic of ‘The Long Tail’ and the fact that most page impressions on political blogs aren't on high volume sites, ours is not a large inclusive conversational culture. Listen, and you will mostly hear people talking bollocks.

Now I understand that the world doesn't end with blogging. But this surely illustrates something that most people who work in politics have suspected for a long time. That the vast majority of the population are usually shy of any contact with the smallish political class, and that the twain never really meet.

So, politicians only really have the option of listening to the usual suspects (again!), or dabbling in the dark arts of opinion polling (boo!) or focus groups (boo!). Or, of course, they can try and start a conversation of some kind – in a way that won’t completely blow up in their faces (trans: spin).


ShaneMcC said...

"Let the debate begin. Let us discuss ideas. Let us talk straightforwardly about the future we want."

Hilary Benn entered Parliament in 1999. I suspect he may have been a politician before then. Why has he left it so late to want to start a debate?

Jag Singh said...

FYI, that figure stands between 50,000 and 80,000 absolute unique visitors.

In comparison, there are 1.6 millions registered UK Facebook users (most of whom couldn't care about politicians and their politics).

Paulie said...

Thanks Jag.

I didn't want to quote the exact figure or the name of the source, but you've done that for me now.


Anonymous said...

We are governed by the Bilderberg Group and the EU.

Paulie said...

Oh no we're not.

Shuggy said...

Hmmm - being old I can do nothing about; the cynical thing I really try and work on. Benn I quite like but Brown I have serious misgivings about. I would sincerely love to be proved wrong - he may well surprise us. But with regards the humility thing I dismiss the charge of cynicism: whatever else Brown might be, humble isn't one of them, whereas Benn strikes me as being naive enough to sincerely believe he's humble. But I'd argue by definition he isn't.

Paulie said...


You're mistaking the cynicism that I'm accusing you of here. I suppose that I'm saying that I don't mind cynicism at all as long as it's about the right things.

Being cynical about Brown - and even Benn, up to a point - if highly rational. Being cynical about their ridiculous claims to 'humility' is even more sensible.

I think it is mistaken to accuse politicians of being cynical when they pretend to 'listen'. You can't survive in politics without making this particular pretence.

But politicians always regret it if they ever do anything more than go through the motions.