Another bout of twitterstorms. Did Jeremy Corbyn leave a wreath or not? Was Boris Johnson being deliberately antagonistic with his comments on the burqa? News items are filled with politicians airing their views on the matter, discussing it in minute detail. Meanwhile, NHS waiting times grow. The number of homeless dying on the streets has risen and food banks are running low. Yet social media is filled with comments attacking or defending the comments of politicians and their perceived ideologies.
Maybe it’s because it’s the silly season and Westminster is not in session so there are less policies or acts to debate. Or maybe it’s because politics has become a battle of ideologies rather than actually getting down to the nitty-gritty of what will improve people’s lives. Let’s face it, grand-standing on social media about Islamophobia signals much more virtue than the somewhat dreary details of the housing act or the minutiae of benefits allocation. It’s much easier to shout your opinions on the internet. An informed opinion on government policies needs to be, well, informed. And that means studying the detail, examining the facts which takes time. Much quicker to post a few quips condemning insensitive language.
Which means that no-one is really holding the government – or the opposition – to account. We’re giving them all a get-out-of-jail-free card. As long as they make the right noises and use the right language, they can do whatever they want. Or, as seems to be the case, do very little at all. The more we debate whether or not there should be a second referendum on Brexit, the more we allow them to speak in soundbites rather than outlining solid policies that will make a real change. We’re allowing them to run rings round us.
I’m from Northern Ireland, where politics boils down to green vs orange and people will always vote for the candidate that they think best represents their cultural identity no matter their competence. Northern Ireland, where the two biggest parties are at a stalemate that means Stormont hasn’t been in session for 20 months. The NHS is on its knees, education is a mess and local councils are cutting back on things like streetlighting and cutting roadside verges due to a lack of funds – and let’s not even talk about what’s not happening about Brexit! Yet the politicians are still drawing their wages. And there is nothing that can be really be done. Yes, they’ve decided to cut wages, but it’s taken over 590 days to get to this point– longer even than Belgium’s record. And what Bradley has only just grasped is that if there was an election tomorrow, the same candidates would be elected in. Why? Because people vote on their ideologies.
Is this what we want in Westminster? A complete polarisation where ministers become untouchable with no-one holding them to account? And if they aren’t held to account, they can feel free to draw as much in expenses or take as many free trips to Sri Lanka as they want. The only people who benefit when politics boils down to an ideological debate is the politicians themselves.
So, how do we fix this? How do we make sure that the politicians do the very thing they are elected to do – represent us and our needs in Parliament? I’ve always argued that we need to move away from party politics and become less entrenched in our respective sides. Growing up in Northern Ireland, I’ve seen the damage that does, especially now when the two moderate parties, the UUP and the SDLP, are all but extinct and all we’ve been left with is two extremes who spend their time battling each other over ideologies rather than sitting down and getting things done.
So the next time you read something on social media or in the news criticising the policies or actions of your chosen political party, rather than immediately tweeting an angry response, why not try to engage in debate. Maybe the commenter is right. If we start listening to one another, eventually our politicians will have to listen to us – and do something about it. Something practical. Something that will change the country. Something that means they are doing the job we elected them to do.