Last September, a twitter spat between UKIP’s only MP, Douglas Carswell (he has since left the party to become an Independent and is, to the relief of many no doubt, standing down at the next election) and Professor Paul Nightingale, deputy director of the SPRU (Sussex University’s Science Policy Research Unit ) made it into the headlines.(Story here.) I won’t dwell on the exchange, other than it centred on how the sun’s gravity affects the tides. ( I kid you not.) Mr Carswell thought the sun directed the tides, Prof. Nightingale pointed out it is the moon that performs that function for us. Now instead of pausing to think, ‘hmm this man is a scientist, perhaps I should just confirm my facts in a, you know, primary school science book, Mr Carswell, Member of Parliament for Clacton, ploughed on, amazed that the Prof. didn’t even know that the sun does this and the moon is only responsible for high neep tides.
Now I’m not going to take the cheap shot and imply Mr Carswell is stupid, because we all have funny little gaps in our knowledge that would make others roll their eyes. I couldn’t tell you a single X-Factor winner, or Strictly Come Dancing winner or, well, anything much to do with sport. (Leicester City won the Premier League, I know that. Born there ya’ know!) And we all know I tend to litter the page with apostrophes like I’m sprinkling glitter.
No, what I think this exchange exemplified is the attitude of the political classes and how they relate to the general public. Especially when refracted through the prism of the news media. Mr Carswell had such self belief that he was right that he never entertained the notion of considering what someone else was telling him and double checking his own facts.
And that, I think is the problem. Some would call that confidence. A great trait in a leader to stick to their guns despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. However, thanks to overly aggressive and critical news analysis, if a politician does change or reverse position, they are criticised for being weak, for doing a U Turn, indecision. So we seem to have the rise of a political animal that is without self doubt, bathed in the glowing sense of their own self righteousness and infallibility (Even when they then flatly contradict their previous position.) And, messiah like, their pure vision carries along believers. Farage, May, Le Pen, Corbyn and, of course, the comic book, bete noir figure, that is Donald Trump, all seem to bear this trait.
So, are we getting the politics we deserve? No quarter given, no considered balancing of the pros and cons of an issue? If we take what we write on Facebook and Twitter we seem to be a more polarised society in the UK than ever.
So, like me, you probably already know who you are voting for. And, perhaps, like me, it won’t make a blind bit of difference because you live in a seat safely in the hands of the other party. But do me a favour. Just think on it. Just for a bit. Is the party you always vote for actually the best for you and your country? And is that straight talking politician who you think is speaking to you really doing that? Or are they really just speaking your fears and pandering to your baser instincts? When they promise this tax cut or benefit freeze, you do know they’ll stiff you somewhere else instead right? Older voters, you do know they freeze and ‘triple lock’ your pensions, not out of a sense of respect or duty, but because proportionally your generation votes more than other ages?
In the last general election, the Brexit referendum and the presidential election in the US we saw people lie to pollsters. If you are ashamed to admit in public who you vote for, should you really be voting for them?
But that being said, make sure you do vote. Whether it appears hopeless or not, the non voters have enough heft in numbers that they could swing any ‘safe’ seat in the UK.
It is going to be a long few weeks, of endless drivel and media discussion, of this minutiae or that. There will be gaffes, (Like Cameron forgetting which football team he supports or Gordon Brown muttering into a still live microphone.) There will be storm in a teacup controversies. And there will be so much fear. But try to look past it. Try hard to see the bigger country, not just for your wallet, but for the best of us and the poorest of us. Bear in mind the wonderfully wise words of Terry Pratchett.
‘Personal is not the same as important’.