Monday, 17 August 2015

There comes a point when voting becomes self-harm

For a little while now I've been running a largely unscientific experiment of taking media messages at face value. Call it a constructive ignorance. There's a reason for this. I wanted to get an insight into what the average person thinks they know about what is going on in the world. The politico-media bubble there are some exceptionally astute people who are paid to misrepresent and misrepresent what politicians say in the full knowledge that it will stick - and unless you care enough to find out what was actually said, you'll end up believing just about anything.

By paying less attention to domestic politics just recently I can honestly say I have a far less detailed overview than usual. For instance, I have no idea if Jeremy Corbyn is an IRA toadying, Hezbollah supporting Communist. I have enough experience of his ilk that I don't actually need the specifics to know which ballpark his politics are in. And like most voters - I really couldn't care less. I have my lazy impression and it's good enough for me. What he actually says in the details is irrelevant because the detail will never reach me - or most people who will actually vote for him.

As much as anything, people will use their peers as marker indicators as to what is a safe opinion to hold - often opting for the more socially convenient point of view. It's a herd instinct from which virtually nobody is immune. This is what Gustav Le Bon called the Wisdom of the Crowd. Sometimes the herd instinct calls it right. The last general election tells you that.    

But as much as the demos can be trusted with the broader decisions, when it comes to details, the public is no more qualified to comment than the chair in which is I sit. This is why deliberative democracy in some instances is notionally better than direct democracy such as referendums.

We have seen this in various social attitudes surveys where attitudes to migrants and welfare claimants differ wildly from the cold, statistical realities. You could get quite carried away with the notion that we're "swamped" with immigrants and that half the population are soaking up benefits and never going to work. People say they don't trust what they read in the papers, but in reality, they soak up every word of it without question.

Eventually through the process of pub gossip and social interaction, some of this nonsense is put to bed and there is a liberal filter in society whereby people may hold robust views but untrusting as they of their ow perceptions, delegate acting upon them to politicians. I think there is a glorious self-awareness in the British in that they have some inclination as to how ignorant they are and don't see themselves as qualified to vote if they don't have a clue.

It would be a sophisticated a study indeed that could work out the ratio of nonsense in the public domain to how much the public actually comprehends and it would be useful to know what the filter time is. By dead reckoning, and looking at various polls I think it takes a week for first perceptions to be tempered by reality.

The reason I'm indulging in this little thought exercise is because I am in the business of constructing political messages. If one is aware of how things are received, that in some way dictates the content and the pitch of the message. It's why I've lambasted Ukip for so long in that no thought at all goes into their message. We saw Roger Helmer telling renewable energy workers that their jobs are worthless, Jill Seymour complaining about the evils of helicopter safety regulation and the overall tone of grunting about foreigners ALL the time. It's not what you say, it's how you say it.

This is the kind of thoughtless and careless operation that in the end loses an EU referendum - a referendum I very much would rather not lose. But it's unfair to pick on just Ukip because the Tory eurosceptics are every bit as bad - and from what we have seen in the Labour leadership campaign, even former ministerial contenders - who are at the very least supposed to know the basics (for instance the difference between people smuggling and trafficking), what we actually find is equally clueless people with no more command of the facts than the bloke in the pub.

The scandal here is that these people are quite well compensated with a lifestyle and income that should make ignorance inexcusable - but somehow it has become socially acceptable for politicians to not know what they're talking about. If that is the modern paradigm then there is no longer any value in deliberative representative democracy. The overall stupidity of the public is well represented but the deliberative process does not result in more astute decisions and in many cases, the bubble effect of routinely congregating such idiocy in a distorted media controlled petridish results in decisions that are in fact alien to the overall demos.

For this reason I remain convinced that direct democracy in almost all instances is preferable.  As I keep saying, if you are going to have idiots making decisions, it's better to cut out the middleman and have ordinary and evenly distributed idiots making the decisions. The decisions then at least hold some democratic legitimacy and then the public are directly responsible for their own pisspoor choices.

As to my experiment, from charting just how little MPs and journalists know, and the sometimes wilful ignorance of their tribe, you would be no worse informed for not reading a single newspaper. It's less a case of the blind leading the blind. It's more like horror film where a self-harming psychopath gouges out his own eyes and ear drums and speaks in a language unknown to humanity and becomes a high priest among devoted followers who accept his teachings as though they were the word of god.

With that in mind I am extremely cautious of repeating the eurosceptic line of "restoring" British sovereignty and putting power back in the hands of parliament rather than "Brussels bureaucrats". For starters the majority of the regulators are in Geneva, and I'll take their expertise over primeval gruntings of the folks in Westminster - but really we shouldn't forget that it was these people who did this to us in the first place. You wouldn't let these people run a bath unsupervised so why would you let them run the country? We'd be safer entrusting such business to a band of chimpanzees with a box of crayons.

I'm still sure that we absolutely must leave the EU but that is only the beginning. The EU is only a symptom of what happens when you leave these people in charge. If we want government that works for the people we must go one further and take the power away from Westminster too. The power to decide whether we can smoke in beer gardens or what goes in children's lunchboxes does not belong in London or Strasbourg. Nor does the rate of council tax. Democracy is essentially government by consent. If the people themselves cannot say no to government and such power does not reside with people, then by definition it is not a democracy. If we really want an end to this carnival of the bizarre, we need to stop reading their poison and stop voting for them. The power is ours and we must take it back.

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