“Why do you prefer to research and write about American politics than British?” a friend asked me the other day. I had no response at the time; I couldn’t quite put into words my fascination with American politics especially in comparison with my disengagement from the domestic politics of home.
Diagnosing the reasons for my detachment from the analysis and debate of British politics was pretty simple when I sat down and thought logically. As a politics enthusiast I like to engage with other political connoisseurs in debate, dialogue and banter- none of which can be done with the average Joe in Britain. Yet, log into an American blog and post a comment- no matter how objective, you will be met with a tirade of chauvinistic replies criticising your philosophy, principles and even qualities as a human being.
Why is this? The USA, a nation of proud patriots with politics instilled throughout their DNA do not suffer from the disease of apathy that we in this country do. They do not see politics as ‘uncool’, but rather realise the fundamental and integral effect it has on the lives of everyone. To be politically uninvolved there is to be isolated and different- quite the opposite to the situation here.
The ‘plague’ of lethargy is not one that is easily curable. The root of patriotism and political participation in the US stems from their constitution, their republic and perpetual target of ‘life, liberty and pursuit of happiness’. We have no such rights guaranteed in a codified form, and I won’t delve into the AS level argument of whether a new constitution would increase affinity to politics in Britain, but I will say that the constitution is indisputably the provenance of American political culture.
To influence the gravity that the standing of politics has in the UK, change has to come from below. The ‘citizenship’ project of Blair’s administration was a start, but I do recall classmates answering the simplest of all questions wrong (such as who is the Prime Minister) - there’s only so much those in Westminster can do stoke the fire of political culture.
My modest solution is to encourage debating societies, free newspaper sales, social media advertisement- and most importantly the elimination of obvious media bias. Growing up, I used to regurgitate my mother’s drivel about immigration and taxes that she in turn inherited from reading the ‘Daily Mail’ (I don’t condone this type of behaviour) as there were no other papers in my home for me to read and grasp my own ideas from. (Did taking my Mum’s political ideology as a given stifle my early interest in current affairs?) With the growth of the internet, one would hope that others like me would take advantage of such an opportunity to extend their readership, and start involving themselves in subsequent debate.
Town hall style shows such as ‘Question Time’ are thought provoking, engaging and digestible for people with even the slightest of thirsts for knowledge- my suggestion would be to air another competing show, and at an earlier time to increase accessibility.
Apathy is not all consuming. Looking down my Twitter feed following the horrific decapitation of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich, I noticed that people were very quick to stake a claim to the political and religious debate that ensued. Clearly people do feel some inclination towards political debate and we need, through grassroots methods, to extract this and cultivate a hospitable environment for it to grow. After all, we live in a democracy, we are free; and ‘freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent, and debate.’
By Adam Isaacs