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The Third Rock Forum - Politics

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Why is the public disillusioned with party politics?
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Submitted : 22-01-2014 17:09
Amended : 10-11-2014 12:14
Status : Approved:  
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This is a question that preoccupies politicians as they struggle to understand why so many people, especially the young, show no interest in the political process in the UK.

Well, I’m here to help.

The reason for disillusion with politics is perfectly clear; and the inability of politicians to see the reason is part of the problem.

In the last 50 years, on almost every major issue, UK governments have been out of step with the public.   Of course, politicians are not there simply to reflect the views of the electorate.   They certainly have a role in leading the way, in introducing new solutions, in forging new policies, many of which, because they are new and innovative, may not immediately attract public support. 

But politicians cannot continue to plough ahead, year after year, decade after decade, on a course they have chosen which is the opposite of what the public wants.

Let’s take a few examples.


Every survey carried out seems to indicate that most parents want their children to be literate, numerate and capable of rational thought. (OK, the rational thought is a particular obsession of mine but certainly literacy and numeracy are high on the list of parental wishes for their children.) 

So what have governments done with our educational system?  They have persistently undermined academic standards, degraded the examination system, and allowed or encouraged teachers to abandon their core responsibilities to pursue a broader syllabus and social, rather than educational, objectives.  The result is the almost unbelievable situation where, after 12 years of taxpayer-funded education, 25% of school-leavers are functionally illiterate and innumerate.  (If you query the premises in the first part of this paragraph, how do you explain the result in the second part?)

What do I mean by pursuit of social, rather than educational, objectives?  Well, when you hear the head teacher of a London school proudly proclaim that more than 90 languages are spoken by pupils in the school, that the first language of 90% of the pupils is not English and that a majority of them cannot speak English at all, you may well admire the resolution with which the head teacher faces the challenge, you may well praise the head teacher for fulfilling a useful social role in acclimatising so many children to life in a foreign country.  But what you won’t think is that such a school is capable of providing any of its pupils with an education in the sense in which the word  has traditionally been used.  Of course, the teachers do their best in a mixed ability, diverse language, multicultural environment and they certainly fulfil a useful social function in hopefully achieving harmony where there was previously anarchy or, worse, discord but, in terms of producing properly literate, numerate individuals capable of performing well as employees in a sophisticated economy, almost everything is stacked against them.

What is the answer?   Simple; restore academic standards, ensure there is streaming in all key subjects so that teachers no longer have to struggle with widely diverse levels of ability within one class; recalibrate exams so that they are a reliable guide to levels of attainment and ability; do not allow children who cannot speak English to join mainstream schools until they have learned (in English language classes exclusively for non-English speakers) enough of the language to be taught in English.   We might even consider the reintroduction of some degree of discipline so that the following statement from a teacher is no longer true:

“The days when you could have the full attention of silent class are long gone.”

and that was a teacher in a private secondary (i.e. public) school.

Will any of this happen?  Well there are signs the current coalition government would like to move in this direction but they face implacable opposition from many within and outside the political establishment. 

So, as things stand, the public is paying for a largely dysfunctional schools system which fails to deliver candidates for employment with the skills they need.   This isn’t the educational system we wanted but it is the one that politicians, the academic world and pressure groups have foisted upon us.



Britain is a pretty bellicose nation but, in general, we like to think there is some justification for putting our soldiers’ lives at risk.

This country did not want to go to war with Iraq.   Indeed the British Prime Minister and his political aide Alastair Campbell had to torture the truth to death to persuade an unwilling Parliament to endorse the decision.   And yet we went to war, conniving in the killing of 100,000 Iraqi civilians, and the deaths of 179 British service-people and the maiming of many more.  It is now generally agreed the war was illegal.  It is universally agreed that Blair took us to war on a false premise – but the government of the day went ahead anyway.

Since the Iraq war, we have engaged in several other conflicts.  British Governments’ enthusiasm for killing other people in other countries while risking the lives of our own is unabated.   Governments seem to have a predilection for backing one side or other in civil wars where it is perfectly clear to anyone who knows anything of the country that each side in the conflict is as bad as the other.  Libya was a good example where, having helped in the overthrow of Gaddafi, we now watch his successors happily killing off his supporters and their own rivals.

There was no desire amongst the British population for these military adventures but they went ahead just the same.

Hence, disillusion


European Union

It is difficult to know whether, if the British people are given a referendum, they will vote to stay in or leave the European Union but one thing is for sure.  When we were asked last time (1975), we voted for an economic union, not a political union   And yet from then till now, the rest of Europe has seemed determined to move towards political union  which, given the single currency, is probably an essential development for the survival of the ‘European project’. And Britain, albeit with strong reservations, has tagged along. 

As far as we can tell, the British people are happy with an economic union but are strongly opposed to a political union.  So what on earth are we doing?  Yet again, we are heading in a direction in which the people do not wish to go.  And yet again, British governments have simply ignored the people.

Hence, disillusion.


National Pride

Taken to extremes, nationalism is dangerous and can be evil but a proportionate pride in one’s country and its achievements is both natural and healthy.  So why has the British establishment decided to extirpate any signs of national pride.  Britain seems more embarrassed than proud of its past, an almost inexplicable state of affairs, given the truly extraordinary and, in many ways, inspirational history of Britain.  It seems we have to be ashamed of our imperial past, despite the fact that we were rather more benign than our colonial rivals.   We must apologise for slavery, despite the fact that we led the way in its abolition.  We must make extreme efforts to accommodate other cultures in our own country, even when these other cultures unashamedly contradict our own core moral values and social norms.

Of course, Ireland, Scotland and Wales celebrate their national days without inhibition, as do most countries in the world, but England and Britain must remain silent or apologetic.   That is not what the British feel.   But it is what successive governments and the British establishment deem appropriate.

Hence disillusion.



There are of course racists in England, as elsewhere and we no doubt have a community of Little Englanders  but most Britons are fair-minded and accept that immigration at some level is an essential component of a free and vibrant society. 

On the other hand, uncontrolled immigration, especially of peoples with a different economic and cultural background, raises legitimate concerns, particularly in Britain’s  working class, amongst whom immigrants are likely to live, for whose jobs they are likely to compete and whose wages they may well depress.

There are also legitimate concerns about the demands large scale immigration imposes on our services and infrastructure.  (Despite governmental enthusiasm for spending our money, we still seem to be heavily dependent for our infrastructure on our Victorian forebears.)

And yet, until recently, it has been impossible to raise the issue without being stigmatised as a racist.

Furthermore, there is still an unhealthy respect for alien cultural practices which offend against our most basic principles.  Despite our belief in sexual equality and abhorrence of child abuse, it is estimated that more than 100,000 British girls have suffered genital mutilation in recent years and yet not one perpetrator has been prosecuted.

Once again, governments are failing to understand the attitudes, concerns and needs of their own people.

Hence disillusion.

I could go on but I think the point is made.  There is no main stream political party that represents the views of the British public.  For all their rather embarrassing bickering, they all seem to be more or less on the same side. 

That in itself is not good for democracy but it is even worse when you realise that the side they’re on is not ours.















Status: Approved
Reply Date : 26-01-2014 16:46
Author : georgebundle
Two separate realities
Why is the public disillusioned with party politics? Asks Nick. I read this with interest as I am interested in politics. You may remember my own submission: Is politics fit for purpose.

I find myself having to disagree with the premise behind Nick’s question. Let me explain. I think the public is not disillusioned with party politics as a vast majority could not care a fig. I think the public is disillusioned with the outcomes of party politics where politicians totally ignore national interests in favour of party interests.
It is these outcomes in the fields of economy, education, health service provisions, social provisions and the lack of well-being where public disillusionment lies.

So, when Nick writes “But politicians cannot continue to plough ahead, year after year, decade after decade, on a course they have chosen which is the opposite of what the public wants”, immediately there is a problem. Politicians will continue year after year, decade after decade, on a course they have chosen because that course is simply to win elections. They will say and do anything to attract voters to support their party.

In consequence, there are two realities. There is a reality which the public recognise. They see, for example, that there is a desperate need for more houses to be built and be available at a reasonable price. They also see that there is plenty of land available everywhere. In fact, less than 10% of the UK is populated.

Party politicians exist in a different reality. They have created the idea of Green Belt which must not be touched. They have given the power to govern local planning to local authorities on the slogan of democratic decision making. This was, and still is, a vote winning concept. This is in the realms of virtual reality because it does not support national needs. Most decision makers in local authorities are existing house owners. The last thing they will vote for is to build more houses where they live.

Democratic decision making, unfortunately, is equal to decisions by committee. A camel is a horse designed by committee! Have you heard about the phenomenon of Post Code Lottery? There you have it.

There is a good example also about economic decision making. This is about the 50% tax rate for those who earn over £150,000. It is a popular policy - let the rich pay more - and wins a lot of voters to support Labour. This is another virtual reality created by party politics.

The actual reality that encompasses the national interest is that the UK desperately needs foreign investment to come to Britain in order to create jobs and increase the GDP.

There is a league table of countries which compete for foreign investment. One of the key considerations for foreign investors is the level of taxation in a country in which they consider investing.
That was the critical consideration when the top rate of tax was set at 40% - competition with other countries. Ignoring this vital consideration, party politicians now play against each other to demonstrate which party pursues a “fairer” taxation policy.

The examples to illustrate the gap between the national interest and party political interest are endless. The desires of the public will never enter the virtual reality of party politics.

The only way to overcome this mess is to form a National Policy Forum, made up of housewives, shop keepers, tradesmen, businessmen, teachers, doctors, lawyers and academics and ask them to come up with a list of national requirements for a decade ahead. The list can then be given to the political parties and request a Manifesto from each detailing how they would meet those needs and at what cost. We could then vote for the party that produces the best solutions. Of course, that will never happen. No-one would vote for it!