The Pursuit of Crappiness XIV: Election Special - System of a Downer.
May 6, 2015
I don't know if you've ever seen Days of Our Lives. It's parodied in Friends as the only show terrible actor Joey Tribbiani is able to stake a semi-reputable and reoccuring role in. This plot thread is very funny, solely because we know how godawful the show is in real life. Should you ever find yourself in America with nothing to do but channel hop and give in to eating a twinkie for the very first time - slowly digesting the feeling "what was all the fuss about?" whilst less-slowly digesting the American diet or to put it more plainly: 256 teaspoons of sugar per tablespoon per gram per bite. We should never go near a twinkie, or that show (or god forbid a U.S TV show about twinkies) but we should pay close attention to the limited days of our actual lives, because they are like the votes sitting inside a ballot box: we may like to think we know the exact count, and that each one matters, but the end result is often unpredictable and highly surprising when it doesn't quite turn out how we expected it to. Just like a ballot box count up, the days of our actual lives may also fail to reflect in outcome what we have input in effort. The opening title sequence of Days of Our Lives shows a spinning hourglass, with each grain of sand in the top glass sinking into the bottom; the top one becomes ever-more transparent, the bottom one ever more full. It's more gripping than the actual show, and is a visual representation of the current predicament Britain finds itself in: our own economic 'Hourglass Model' is causing us to lose touch (and lose trust) with the UK political system more than ever: inbetween the top and bottom glasses we find the mass middle classes: endlessly squeezed and at the point of bursting - existing solely to prop up the top glass which holds the richest top % of the country (a tiny minority) who make huge profits and seem untouchable and unacountable for tax evasion and reckless gambling of public money. This top glass believe they are doing their philanthropic duty for the nation by hoarding wealth, which they very fetchingly let trickle down to the about-to-burst middle and eventually after much filtering: the bottom hourglass. This is where the very poorest in society find themselves - financially and socially suffocating, trapped in a transparent bubble with no way out, only existing to look up at the top hour glass and be reminded that this bubble may soon burst with profit and greed, whilst they struggle to burst from a deep and growing feeling of social and economic segregation.
This hourglass model has been building over the last half-century: the 60s saw economic boom and political activism which along with free love shoved Britain into a new cultural era and more gender-equal way of life, the 70s saw relatively equal wages and a relatively balanced society financially, the 80s saw the U.S give birth to the baby of all capitalist babies, named eloquently 'Desire for Debt' and this continued steadily on into the 90s, peaking with the paradise-promises of New Labour and terrific Tony (I was fooled too - mainly because he looked like my dad). No wonder people are immensely miffed: the ones of us who choose to actually take off our hoods and look up from our iPods and witness the credit crunch and recession came to realise that the people who profited the most was the super-rich (0.5% of the population) - bailout profits went to them and not the people who actually needed it, bankers seem to have avoided jail then the government took money of regular working people to pay the bankers' catastrophic debts off...(??!?!!!!! = exactly). If the actual bailout money (the dosh the government took off us to prop up the banks who still employ most of the same people who did very very bad) was shared equally amongst the population of the UK, each household would have recieved £20,000. Ever wonder why the younger generations and the squeezed middle get so frustrated with the political system that they choose to turn their back on it all together? It feels for many British citizens that the current political system is run by the tiny uber-rich hourglass at the top, and only works for them. The hourglass feels firmly rooted to the cabinet it sits on, nailed down by centuries of upper-middle class white men who talk about change but have zero intention of flipping it so the poorest suddenly find themselves at the top (history has given the cabinet the odd shudder, mind). With a hung Parliament looking increasingly likely for a second consecutive general election, and no outright winner for Prime Minister again, plus 'smaller' parties like the Greens, SNP, UKIP and Lib Dems gathering large swathes of support - could things be about to change forever? Are we looking at the future of politics? The devil born out of the TV and media those old men in goverment treasure so dear is that with greater technology comes greater exposure of outside runners and up-and-coming 'exciting' parties - they catch our eye, and we catch theirs, they have opinions and personalities that seem to look and make more sense, because collectively they reflect Britain in the truest possible way: a nation of hugely mixed opinions and beliefs - the exact thing that makes our country wonderful, even if you don't agree with larges swathes of beliefs. This is what makes Great Britain great, and strangely it is the exact thing that Westminster politicians are trying to stop. They better face up to Britain's true interests: since they may never get an overwhelming majority government again.
The current highly inaffective (and more-extinct-than-the-dinosaurs-yet-continues-to-be-instilled-by-old-cashrich-politicians-who-fear-society-actually-being-able-to-voice-their-opinions-and-electoral-preferences-for-real-change) system of First Past The Post (FPTP) needs to change, and there has to be a review into it if we do indeed see a second consecutive hung parliament. FPTP is the second most-widely used system in the world (coincidentally in current or ex-British Colonies like Canada, America and India). It works by voters putting a cross in a box next to their preferred candidate and the person with the most votes in the constituency wins - simple as that. What is deeply frustrating with FPTP is that all other votes count for absolutely nothing. In a modern democracy, First Past The Post is surely the worst system for electing a government that actually represents what millions of voting people actually want - it allows a person with very little public support to get into power, so long as they gain more votes than the other candidates. Additionally, FPTP encourages tactical voting, which completely defeats the idea that you vote based on what you truly believe in. Worst of all, and the reason why so many people feel disillusioned with the power of their vote, FPTP wastes 1,000s of votes and restricts voters' choices - there's no way in ticking a box to show you disagree with a party's beliefs and policies (because parties are coalitions of many different views). We've not even mentioned 'safe seats', where a party with FPTP is pretty much guaranteed re-election and re-election - completely diminishing the notion of free speech and reflective balloting (it's essentially a hidden regional dictatorship and means these areas are ignored when policy changes are being considered...since they're "already safe" in a party's hands. After this election we might actually get a chance to make real change to this country/collection of countries/Isle/soon-to-be-split-up nation, with the old saying being "you the British people get to decide" maybe starting to be used non-ironically for the first time in years. Could we be moving towards a Party List PR 'Open List' or 'Closed List' - where every single vote has equal value and there is a high degree of party proportionality (ie: 'Proportional Representation'). Basically: you get to choose an individual candidate or a party from a list, and whoever is elected is done so based on a simple popular count-em-up vote.
With the days of peoples' lives being ticked off each day (you don't get them back) and only a third of the English electorate actually turning up to vote, why are the vast majority of people detached and completely disengaged from the political system in our country? It really doesn't make sense: have you ever stared at an analogue watch for 1 minute? Intensely focusing on the movement of every single second tick away is one of the most depressing and life affirming things you can do to kickstart your passions, dreams and the voicing of your opinions for change: as it's a harsh reminder that once a second has gone, that's another one gone on the way to the ticking time bomb that is ultimately death (taxes are the service stations along the way). If this sounds depressing then it's meant to: people disengage with making a real change in their society, and the deflating thing is that the more educated you are with politics as a member of a younger generation, the more you realise that when it comes to making the days of your life and all the seconds in it count, the current voting system throws you firmly between a rock (in the shape of Nigel Farage's face) and a hard place (Nick Clegg's old student union). Before policies can actually make real change, younger generations (and all for that matter) need to know there's a change in the system that gets people into power in the first place, with a need for a voting process that selects based quite simply on what the majority of people actually want (knock knock red and blue...the referendum monster is calling you out).
The idea of the upper echelons of power blocking the nation's voices from being truly heard is summed up in two glaring examples I came across last week. On Thursday I was speaking in a Bath school on empowering young people to make conscious and well informed decisions about their futures. Prior to me there was a talk and Q&A with an ex-pupil called Sally Harris, who is now Green Party council candidate for Lansdown. I got to partake in her discussion. Being the only male there while she ranted jovially about old white males in Westminster clogging up the House of Commons and serving only to block true democracy was a little awkward at first, but then I remembered I had my first fully clean-shave in over a year recently, and got mistaken for a japanese woman by my friend in Paddington Station...who walked straight past me (I told Sally this, and the rest of the female room...they agreed they would have walked past me too). When we'd all finally settled into the fact that there were actually no men in the room, but a transgenger Yoko Ono lookalike in the corner, I asked her and the collective of under-16 students something which had been bugging me since I finished university: "with the referendum vote in Scotland creating astounding levels of political engagement amongst 16-25 year olds, should we do it in this country?". Sally said something brilliant in it's simplicity: "from 16, we can have sex, drive a car (hopefully not at the same time), have children, live independently, get a job...yet we're not able to vote". It makes sense with educational policy: how can the next generation of university-goers not get a say on how universities should run, and the cost (or not) of tuition fees? This took me back to my school days: an exam factory to get to university, with no alerting to the idea of how our country is run, what it means to take ideas and form these into manifestos and policies that can lead to change, how our economy works, how local and national voting works, how people get their voices heard, what sectors we split national interests into and what gets what funding.
The government want 18-25s to be disengaged with politics, to keep the eldest fat cats happy who complain "the youngsters of this country don't know what they want, so we better keep sorting it for us, ahem, I mean them. 100% them." We need to excite students on how the country runs, and their role in keeping it functioning in the way they believe matches their beliefs. They need to be opened to exploring what those beliefs might be - and how those beliefs fit in with the masses. The first notice I really took of the word 'politics' was when I cast my first ever vote in 2005 - the end of my first year of university, when i'd been engaged in the process of voting by our student union. I asked Sally if she agrees that politics should be as deeply engrained in our national educational curriculum as maths and english. She agreed astutely, and passionately expressed to the room that "it has to be done in a way that doesn't term it's classes as "politics" because so much distancing has been done with that word for under 25s." I couldn't agree more. It may do us as good to have a little bit of political education, promoted under the term "real life issues" or "have we actually want to live". The second glaring example of political mass silencing I encountered this week was a 15 second clip from Question Time: The Leader's Debate Special...and it was the ultimate politician's answer to an everyday British citizen: a lady asked "why won't you let the peoples be heard when it comes to a vote on Europe?". Ed Miliband's response? "Because I don't want a referendum on Europe." The lady then daggers "but that's your voice, why won't you let us have ours?". Miliband can only answer, instantly and truthfully: "because I want to lead." Under this system, where seats are safe and 1,000s of votes count for nothing, it's scary to realise that 'leadership' in politics is a veneer for downright dictatorship.
Politicians are so disengaged with the younger generations, mainly because they are worried about offending and losing touch with theirs. The simple facts show there are not enough women in politics, and there are far too many old white men sitting on their backsides in the House of Commons. The building is old, but it doesn't mean the people who oversee the policies of this country (ahem, I mean their individual selfish interests) should be too. The ageing population has ripped a San Andreas fault line through the oldest and youngest in this country: the oldest hold onto their jobs for as long as possible because they're worried about pensions and financial security for the extra years medical developments and health care have added onto our average developed-world lifespan, whilst the youngest resent the fact that they're being burdened with paying off the debt of their elders who are also clogging up the working positions they would instead be free to fill. Like any major global fault line, the cracks may appear small at first and may remain dormant for years with no real indicator as to when they will tear apart and what the devastation level will be. The problem is that we can see the fault line, yet are choosing to just skip over it politely, in the way we Brits like to do. There's tension, so let's get older and younger generations talking about it on a platform that truly reflects the way the world is going: social media and the internet. I may not agree with his full manifesto (and I trust Ed Balls about as much as I trust Pete Doherty to give me nutritional advice), but I stand up and salute Ed Miliband for going to Russell Brand's flat to sit in the firing line of the comedian's affirmation of anti-voting and the disillusionment of the would-be-young-electorate. Even though Ed started to imitate Brand's gestures with arm-led rapping moves Kanye West would be proud of - I hear an electro-pop supergroup from Sweden called Milibrand is currently forming underground with 2 DJ decks, lazers and a shit load of lighters (the real reason why the Holborn fire started) whilst people chant to Miliband's in-yo-face vocal clarity on banking regulation slip ups that "it ain't gonna happen, it ain't gonna happen" again - Ed was great to turn up and appear...real (that cryptic notion amongst politicians). Russell Brand has 9.6 million followers (10 times more than the Prime Minister) and during my time in Bath with Sally Harris, a 15 year old girl said of his influence online "personally I think he's an idiot but a lot of people, young people especially, are interested in what he has to say."
Yes, TV debates are great, but why do they have to be negotiated, wrangled, media-controlled - the only reason? Politicians are scared about what they say, in case they slip out of line with millions of pounds of PR-barked orders, and actually appear genuine and honest. Russell Brand may not believe in voting, but by shining a light on Labour and the Greens respectively, by setting up an iPad in 5 seconds, giving the world a 600 second view through a looking glass that younger generations can actually relate to, and taking 300 seconds to upload this onto Youtube ensures a medium millions of young voters might actually be willing to tune into. They might not only tune in, they might spread their social media savvy wings with the feeling of empowerment at truly affecting change...and retweet and share the link for countless others to see. One simple video, conducted in a modern and intercommunicative way they quite simply get, has done more for politics than the millions of pounds each party have invested in PR and marketing that is completely wasted on the eyes and minds of the younger generations who - like it or not Westminster - will be running the country one day. With a click or swipe of their smartphones, they can share/like/dislike/comment/post/post-and-comment/subscribe the Milibrand link, and begin to enlighten themselves on how politics relates to their everyday lives. According to a Facebook statician, there have been 52 million interactions about the general election, and a study in the United States during the last election showed that 342,000 people were encourage to vote because they saw their friends were talking about it on social media. The figures are encouraging, but it could still be a hell of a lot more.
Green Pary leader Natalie Bennett quite rightly emoted on a different Brand youtube interview: "politics is something for everyday, not twice a year". What a tragedy that the people who understand the need to engage people through the everyday mediums that form our communicative bond with the rest of the world (Youtube, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, Facebook and even Buzzfeed) are the people systematically blocked from getting into government. I'm not saying I need them to rule the country, but a stronger presence in the House of Commons would mean the old school elite simply have to take notice of what's major issues are trending online. Politicians cluelessly throw their hands up and complain that England suffers from a voting apathy (44% of under 25s turned up to vote in 2010, compared to 76% of over 65s), yet they are the very people keen to provoke the apathy in the first place. It's a fear of losing their own comfy seats - if there was a political sofa sale on, even with 364 days of sales, they still wouldn't budge. They're happy to sit there, relentless in their sloth, their sofa looking more and more outdated and unappealing by the year, yet they refuse to budge and gradually become part of it: turning inanimate and useless, to the point when we wonder if the seat is ever going to be opened up to others who have just as much right to sit there. Politicians run away from the 44%, and stick to the people who are going to guard their sofa: they protect the elderly. I was always taught to respect my elders, but never to sacrifice my own generation's future for their benefit. A huge number of students (and I spend my days talking to 100s) feel there's a sense of "protect the elderly, because the tireless young renters will prop them up - hell they wouldn't want their own place anyway...those nomadic zero hour flexi-fools".
We all bang on about not trusting politicians - and trust comes from a willingness to show fragility and vulnerability (the most human of traits). When vulernability is replaced by a pompous assuredness of position and power, an instant barrier is formed emotionally and socially between the mass electorate and those who pop up every now and again and say "let me be perfectly honest with you all, we have the peoples' interests at heart". The more they say trust us, the more we back off. Nick Clegg recently said in an interview that his favourite emoji is the smiling cat with heart eyes, and with that a little hint of everyday human shimmers for us all to see, and connect with. I'm not saying all politicians should tell me their favourite emoji, but it would at least be a start in the journey towards powerful elected beings willingly exposing themselves to more of the vulnerability incumbent with social media. In other words: if they get off their safe seat and throw themselves towards us, we'd be much more willing to open our arms and catch them. For under 25s, the popularity tickbox is really quite simple; as Evening Standard journalist Richard Godwin puts it: the social media generation "prefer those who own their flaws to those who conceal them". We don't need shiny glossed up caricatures, edited and airbrushed to perfection. We need them to show us their only human. The irony is that the news was meant to be the rawest medium: instant, brutal and exposing - the simplest way to get the newest information though to us. I'm not sure when it happened, but studio news channels feel more like the X Factor - with their background beats, interior design overdrive and image conscious presenters. The difference is that when it comes to politics, personality expose is the news. The best news? A fleeting glimpse of the real personality. A move towards 24/7 social media driven political engagement would give the under 25s the human qualities they really crave in leaders - if they want their leaders to be inspirational and role models. The 'caught on camera, zero edits, uploaded in a flash' footage is the window to the 21st century political soul. Selfies and short vidoes provide a sense of ownership for each person - a way to judge politicians' characters like never before. Take for example Ed Miliband's #Milifandom movement currently taking over Twitter that is causing more teenage girls sheets to fluster than a bad case of spicy curry. Miliband or 'MiliBAE' (the highest teenage compliment acronym of 'Before Anyone Else') was re-branded a hunk by a 17 year old girl called Abby, who has shown the world the power of social media by completely revolutionising the prime-minister-to-be's popularity amonst young voters - with zero PR budget, a moment's quick thinking, a flat white and a smartphone screen. Milibae: The Movie premiered online at 4 minutes 34 seconds and took less than a week to edit. There's 1.000s of teenager who share executive directing and producing credits, and Abby's now got over 10,000 new twitter followers.
Considering that there's been an upsurge of nearly 500,000 new people registering to vote in time for May 7th, you can thank the silky slick fingers of Abby, Russell Brand and the countless others who have taken to social media to wrestle back ownership of politics to the people. 2015 has seen 3 million new people eligible to vote, and I worry that most have turned their back up, or attempted to register too late. The government don't need PR specialists to spend £20m+ on national campaigns that only serve to fuel distrust. They don't need social media tutorials from people in the same generation as theirs on how to be more "hip" and engaged online. Cameron, Miliband and Clegg simply have to turn to the smallest ones in their respective households: their children being one of the first generations completely engrained in social media and the internet as a way of seeing the world's issues, and all aspects of life outside their four walls. If the three most influential men in the country can't even lean over their kids' shoulders for a quick tutorial on who and what young people respond to over a small sceen, they really don't deserve to hold the balance of potential power for 65 million citizens over our 4 beautiful countries. Ironically, it is the two leading ladies of this campaign (who don't have children) who are leading the way with online engagement: David Cameron has 1m yet feels so distant and defunct online. Nick Clegg has 241,000 followers, and Milibae? Well thanks to Abby, he's teen-rocketed up to 474,000. Mrs Sturgeon and Ms Bennett's profile ratings rose significantly after the televised all-party debate: Sturgeon currently has 192,000 followers (about 1 in 25 Scottish citizens), Natalie Bennett of the Greens has 80,000 followers small in comparison to the Prime Minister, yet you wouldn't doubt for one second that every single one of their followers really does 'follow' them, and truly matter to these great ladies. It is their willingness to engage in the street. It is their desire to be filmed uncut, close and personal in the firing line of British citizens, and their social prowess to pose for endless selfies (flaws and fragility in every instant snap and pixelated detail) seemingly the key to unlocking the younger generations' hearts (who in turn feel a politician closely holding theirs). I decided to tweet Natalie Bennett a message of support, even though I'm torn between morality: do I semi-bregrudingly voting to strengthen what I know is a safe seat (albeit for a party I am partial to), or do I show my local constituency that the Greens have a growing presence. I read an interview with Ms Bennett, where she mentioned to my surprise that her favourite eaterie in London for a quick bite is Romeo's Gluten Free Cafe in Angel - I regularly go there, and immediately saw myself stumbling down the political rabbit hole of personality before policy (I do however, love most of their policies). She then went on in the same interview to express that her favourite dish to make is gluten free pizza, and my favourite dish to make is gluten free pizza. In essence, I like a diet-fussy person, who's also Australian. There's two things I never thought I'd admit to. To my surprise she then followed me back, and responded to my tweet. All we exchanged information about what gluten free eating, yet it's the most engaged I've felt in politics in years. I take a bit of wheat out of the equation, throw in some Twitter, and it finally happens: I might as well admit it...I'm a #BAEnnett.
They say newspapers are tomorrow's fish and chip wrapping. If that's the case then online is high quality tuppaware: a highly effective yet simple tool, which by it's very nature creates transparency, maintains freshness and preserves goodness. It also exposes deterioration and flaws, if and when they occur. Westminster need to stop wolfing down the chips (that does explain the look of most) and start bringing in their tuppaware instead: we've already seen how refreshing scottish produce is, surrounded by greens (it sounds like my mum's favourite post-gym recipe). Most mainstream politicians are playing social media catchup right now, and once Clegg has given Westminster a detailed tutorial on Bitmojis, maybe they can pool their resources for the common collective good and set up a huge national conversation over social media about a myriad of issues that people deeply care about. They could then form this into a giant ongoing poll whose results are broadcast 24/7 across the nation, at the bottom of every major channel for the rest of all time. This is what Natalie Bennett of the Greens has said we should be doing: a big national blank piece of paper which gets filled with a list of issues the masses actually want change on, all collected by using the most accessible methods for all generations - social media, incessant door banging, viral iPhone debates in town squares and front doors with politicans...whatever it takes to get people to realise their democratic voice can actually hold power. Yes we have polls that interview 1,000 people and then "adjust" it according to the population at large, but surely this is the best way to validate mass opinion is to use the internet to gain the opinions of millions, with politicians knocking on every single remaining non-internet-connected door to get an opinion from them. People have lost the will to go to politicians, so politicians need to start making an effort to come to us. I have a huge issue with polls, in that they only interview a tiny proportion of people and they dangerously can affect the way millions of people then think they have to act.
If every single politician and public service employee spent their time knocking on doors and engaging in social media - there'd be no need for polls, because they'd have actually made the colossal efforts to find out what every single person thinks (or at least as close to 100% of the electorate as possible). Polls are the cheap privatised way of buying confidence in what you think masses of people are actually thinking. They help protect mainstream politics which is now nothing more than a national lottery: win and it's nigh-on guaranteed security, with little chance of stumbling back to the bottom. Fail to win and you can keep playing, but the odds are stacked against you breaking through...it's the way the system is constructed. If we really want to make people feel politics is an everyday empowering feeling, then we need to change the game completely. Scrap polls and have a mega-ongoing live social media poll. Make it a law that no politician is allowed to step foot in the House of Commons until the end of the month, when all they are there to do is pass laws on what the majority of electorate have voiced in the 24/7 mega-poll. The prime minister should only be allowed to appear in the house of commons on Skype, as he comments on what he's found from his 5 year non-stop tour of people's doorsteps. He is quite simply a messenger of the people, relaying what they want and then uploading a video on Youtube and Twitter of how he plans to do it, for people to retweet and comment on his instant policies (he then spends his travelling time getting his policies pushed through Parliament, again via Skype). In conclusion, it seems my point is that the look and feel of politics needs to be as fluid as peoples' mediums of expression: because the world itself only exists by being fluid. Politics should have no stuffy dress code, no specialist language, and sleeves rolled up with coffees in one hand, changes to legislation notes in the other.
The prime minster needs to be a hugely popular (and non-offensive) charlatan, an open and honest being who is savvy on social media, speaks their mind and is brave enough to say "enough is enough" whilst sticking at tasks when the going gets tough. Most importantly, they need to be ignorant to the stuffy world of politics. The only two viable candidates? Zayn Malik and Beyonce. It's more than perfect: they're used to touring, can go it alone and are used to sleepless nights worrying about what the masses think about them. And in the world of visual instant communication, let's face it: they're pretty damn pretty. I'm off now - I need to pack my bags. They're full of blank pieces of paper, sharpened pencils and a reversible pair of pants - two of those are for starting my 24/7 mega poll on which is the better candidate for PM (I'll leave you to figure out which). Think how wonderful the election debates would be: they can release a duet for each key area, singing passionately at each other about what they would change (to billions of hits on Youtube) - I'll be there waving in the front row for the live election tour...waving my reversible pants in the front row, while a pollster sharpens my pencil Conservatively then Labours to shake my hourglass as I turn Green and suddenly realise that out of the days of my life, this has to be the first time I've felt politically empowered...afterall, you only Lib once.