Has our disillusionment with politics reached a new low (or should that be high)?
That’s what many people believe. The voting evidence certainly supports it.
Electoral turnout in the UK has been on a downward trend since 1950, when 84 per cent of the population turned out to vote. In 2010 it was 65 per cent – and only 44 per cent of those aged 18-24. Meanwhile membership of the mainstream parties has collapsed.
The more enlightened analysis explains the growth of UKIP – and to a lesser extent the Greens – as fuelled by disillusionment with the political elite (think MP’s expenses, phone tapping, police selling stories to journalists) rather than by the immigration or any other policy issue.
There’s broader evidence too. Deference for a whole range of traditional institutions has been in long term decline – the monarchy, corporations, broadcasters, the media and so on. The Internet has empowered people to take all manner of things into their own hands. In a world where we can all do everything for ourselves, experts are no longer important.
Inevitably, it’s not quite that simple. National issues, the traditional political discourse around the economy and so on – these are no longer the things people care about. And it certainly seems we’ve had our fill of politicians and senior public servants.
But there’s plenty that does get people exercised. There’s plenty of engagement in single issues and local movements. People still take to the streets to protest about fracking or the colour of Cardiff City’s kit. The Scottish referendum was a great example. There were lots of scenes on the news of young people out on the streets campaigning and of others making their arguments one way or the other.
So it isn’t so much that people are disillusioned with politics. Maybe with politicians. Not issues – but they are different ones.
It’s a strange world where comedian and actor, Russell Brand has become a figurehead for a new age of politics. What does it say when a comedian leads a political party in the Italian general election and Al Murray, The Pub Landlord, is standing for parliament against Nigel Farage? It’s no joke. But it sure is different.