In The Times today, Daniel Finkelstein comments on the ever-widening gulf between the voters and the elected. Taking the ‘bullying Brown’ story as his starting point, and the fact that it seems to have made no difference to anything, he writes that,
‘the story slipped into the huge gulf of distrust, disbelief and lack of interest that now separates the political class from everyone else.
Into this gulf slips much else. Prime Minister’s Questions almost every week, almost every row about political donations, almost every campaign promise, every campaign slogan. The gulf is so full of disbelieved manifestos and ignored speeches and irrelevant briefing documents that almost the only hope for politics is that the chasm will one day be so full of wastepaper that we will be able to walk across it.’
Nice imagery. But he understates the case. I’m sure Daniel lives just as much in the real world outside Westminster as you or me, in which case he must know that the lack of knowledge of even the rudiments of the political game easily matches mere distrust and cynicism. The Evening Standard this week, in its feature on poverty in the capital, was shocked to discover that a young single mother on a council estate had not even heard of David Cameron. I was less surprised; an overheard conversation last week in a shop in Bexleyheath—nice, suburban Bexleyheath—revealed the same lack of knowledge: ‘Who is this Cameron then?’
This is still the extreme end of the spectrum. But I’m sure that the vast bulk of sentient people still had no idea that the Tory leader was giving an apparently life-or-death speech last Sunday. They have never heard of Lord Ashcroft and are even less interested. All the bullying stuff made not a scintilla of difference to them. And I do not blame them for a moment.
The political/media class—so expertly dissected by Peter Oborne in his book The Triumph of the Political Class—is obsessed with the minutiae of these ‘issues’: stripped of an ideological dimension to what’s at stake, they have become merely slavish analysts of nothing more than the process. They have become, in effect, like old-fashioned courtiers, peering round columns, making alliances with other factions, hanging on the words of those whose words have been deemed important by their peers.
Outside the palace gates however, outside the TV studios which now resemble little satellite power bases, increasing numbers of people regard politicians—or should I say, these politicians—as an irrelevance.
And it is not simply because of expenses, or the fact that they can’t be trusted, or that they indulge in punch-and-judy games. It is more fundemental than that. People simply believe that on the biggest issues, those which they face every day and which are leading to an almost palpable anger—issues such as mass immigration and social breakdown—the parties not only appear useless, but either lack the will to action, or indeed, seem to be actively working against them.
‘A chasm has opened up between electors and the elected’ says Daniel. ’Voters are deaf to the babble of the political class.’ Well yes, but as one of his respondents comments, politicians are deaf to the anger of the voting class.