The public have been reduced to extras in 'election show' politics

By Simon Barrow
April 13, 2010

After a week of General Election campaigning, how many actual members of the public have the leaders of the three 'main parties' met? Not selected audiences, photo-op industry or community facility workers (who are primed not to embarrass their vote-seeking visitors), party apparatchiks, cheer leaders, or aides... but ordinary voters and non-voters?

The answer, according to presenter Andrew Neill on the charmingly irreverent This Week (Monday 12 April 2010) was precious few. Well, he said "none", but we'll allow space for poetic license! At the launch of the Labour manifesto, the carefully chosen audience even cheered press questions they liked and booed ones they didn't, just to make sure that the rest of us knew what to think.

It is a commonplace to talk of "the Westminster village" and the "London media set" constricting a broader political agenda and narrowing its tone. The idea that this is a battle between two and a half parties with a few others thrown in for effect, no meaningful independents (and 'the public' reduced to pawns to be wooed or a backdrop to be painted in) is also being perpetuated by the 'image' that the most monied party protagonists seek to cultivate.

The alarming absence of the people from politics - when they are what politics (the just and responsible exercise of power) should actually be about - will be manifested glaringly in the tightly controlled 'leaders debates' on TV, too.

Effectively, the public are being trained to be extras in their own film, while those who appoint themselves to the leading roles create a supine simulacrum 'public' in their own image.

The disgruntled authorities should perhaps “dissolve the people and elect another one,” quipped Bertolt Brecht after riots in the German Democratic Republic in 1953. We usually associate the idea with despotic regimes. But the erosion of representative and participatory democracy within a seriously degraded UK political system, one many believe is no longer fit for purpose, sadly achieves the same effect.

That's another reason to push for a hung parliament, so that the log-jammed parties can be called to proper account and forced into reform.

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