Democracy 2.0: Understanding the failure of democracy

Democracy, or rule by the consent of the governed, is quite honestly the perfect system of the modern nation state, in that it represents the interests of the people in a way where if those interests diverge from that of the rulers, they can be replaced. Totalitarianism, whereas is perhaps the worst expression of how the nation state can be subverted into an environment of repression, where freedom of expression does not exist.

So you may be wondering, why this article is entitled understanding the failure of democracy. For any  system to truly fail there must be a natural point where that system was perfect for the decline to take place. Since there has been no natural point in history where democracy has been perceptibly perfect the contention that it has totally failed is somewhat erroneous. And yet we can say that democracy is failing the electorate.

Why? The evidence is obviously really, in most elections throughout the world, the voter turnout is quite often less than 100%, and in some recent elections and referenda, its been less than 50%. Now we can call it changing views and a changing societal outlook but put it simply: If the governed do not feel interested enough in selecting those who govern then why govern in the first place.

Governing becomes an action of necessity rather than a civic duty, we govern because we have always done so and so it continues. But eventually, the motivations for governance will fade and at that point the point of democracy will be lost. You only need look at the disenfranchisement taking place to see the start of this process. We as a society have a responsibility to arrest this and we can with a few changes.

The Generation Game

Generations are becoming disenfranchised with the political process, with viewing figures for reality TV shows far higher than those of your average parliamentary questions session. Voting figures in elections continue to slide, the names of ministers become less important than whichever vacuous Instagram influencer or Kardashian clan member has a new fashion line.

But to some extent, why would they? What does joe public have in common with your average politician? They are seldom seen, and are often seen as aloof, privately educated individuals who have no connection to the common man. They are not believed and seldom trusted by citizenry, sometimes with good reason and other times unnecessarily so. We never see a politician outside of a scripted carefully choreographed environment, surrounded by toadies and when approached by members of the public, they never deviate from the party line, despite the individualised nature of the questioning.

However, I want to qualify this statement by saying this perception of politicians could be endemic to those within the higher echelons of the respective parties. There may be many hundreds of politicians who work hard, connect with the communities they serve and are good and responsible public servants. But we never hear about them!

Kings of spin

In most forms of publicly scrutiny, politicians they are often seen to misdirect truth and employ rhetoric to avoid answering questions, aiding this distrust among citizenry. Citizens do not understand the work that politicians do, both in their respective communities and externally.

Worse than this, entire sections of society are collectively switching off from politics. Working class individuals are often apathetic about politicians, often using the adage “doesn’t matter who gets in it’ll never change” to justify staying absent from the political process. In the case of BAME individuals, they often feel their views are not represented because of the absence of BAME politicians, which is something of a misnomer due to the presence of pioneers like Bernie Grant, Diane Abbott, Oona King and so on.

The conduct of politicians over recent years has done nothing to aid this disconnect. In parliament, politicians bicker, behaving like children, shouting each other down and increasingly slinging mud when they should be acting in the interests of the public. Worse than this, it is seen by the electorate in newscasts, interviews and latterly on social media, adding to the negative perception of parliament.

The problem is not endemic to the UK, in the US, tweets by Donald Trump are regarded as the mating call of the lesser spotted idiot, in which he says whatever he feels regardless of who he offends and the political consequences. This is not the denigration of politicians as a result of freedom of speech, which every person has a right to do (we are in a democracy after all), this is the politicians effectively sabotaging themselves through their increasingly crazy actions.

In addition, the second part of this disconnect exists at a local level, where politicians, due to a flawed system fail to engage with the electorate that they serve. This leads to many people thinking quite rightly, why vote for you, what have you ever done for me? Without a demonstrable track record anything the politician says would most likely be considered as hot air.

Democracy is on the verge of eating itself, not because of some rival political system, but because of its own failure to address issues and move with the times. The disconnect between voters and elected officials is becoming a gulf and to be quite honest the only people who want to become politicians are often the people who are most ill-suited to do so. The world has become a breeding ground for corruption, where politicians work behind closed doors to maintain regimes at the expense of the people that keep them in power.

Tackling the problem

So how do we address this issue in a way which preserves the system which has flourished for centuries and could still do so? The fundamentals of democracy are worth preserving, the consent of the people, appointing representatives to serve communities, one person from these individuals leading the nation state to a collective future. These are the things that work and should be preserved.

But at the same time, we can lose these things due to inaction in addressing the things identified above which are failing. Drawing parallels from an individuals life, if you want to become a better person you must first acknowledge that you have problems and work to address them. This is something we as a society must do with democracy, we must acknowledge the failures and then work to overcome them.

Developing a totally new system requires time, patience and testing, something which our civilisation cannot really afford to do because it is so entrenched in our DNA. We must therefore work under the current system and introduce staggered targeted improvements into the process while there is still time to save democracy. But what are these improvements and how should they occur? This is a question I’ll attempt to answer over the next series of articles. This is Democracy 2.0.

View from the Green Seats-Trump to speak in Parliament plans dropped

British officials have confirmed that a plan to allow Donald Trump to speak in Parliament as part of a state visit to the UK have been shelved.

It is expected that the Presidents state visit will be moved to late summer or early autumn, when Parliament is in recess for the summer.

Parliament will be in recess from June until the 5th September, with a months recess commencing on the 15th September to make time for party conferences to take place.

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Not In My House: Speaker Bercow railed against Mr Trump

The move by the government is aimed at averting the prospect of a parliamentary snub for Mr Trump and follows earlier comments made by the Speaker of the House, John Bercow.

Speaker Bercow had come under pressure to resign from the speakership following his unguarded comments about the President in which he accused him of being racist and sexist.

Conservative MP James Duddridge yesterday tabled a motion of no confidence against the speaker in the House of Commons, but this was widely expected to be dismissed.

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James Duddridge MP for Rochford and Southend East

Mr Duddridge said  “I’ve done this because Speaker Bercow for a long time has been overstepping the mark and with his comments on the state visit of President Trump he has clearly expressed views.”

“That is not the role of the Speaker, and it is impossible for him to chair debates as Speaker adjudicating on things he has expressed a view on.”

Conservative MP Alec Shelbrooke echoed Mr Duddridge’s sentiments saying : “John Bercow has politicised the office of Speaker and his position is untenable.”

This view was not shared by his colleague Claire Perry MP, who said “I think for us to try and remove a speaker over something that he said would be really rather drastic. He’s entitled to his opinions, perhaps he just shouldn’t have addressed them on this particular issue.”

No formal dates for President Trump’s state visit to the UK have been announced, but don’t expect this to be the last potential opposition action against this most controversial of U.S Presidents.

Brexit White Paper: Government sets out life after EU

David Davis the Secretary of State for Brexit has today unveiled a government white paper on Brexit.

The paper outlines the governments 12 principles required for a successful exit from the European Union.

The move comes just twenty-four hours after the Government’s successful vote to adopt the European Union (notification of withdrawal) bill.

Mr Davis said that the UK’s  “best days are still to come”, outside the EU.

Key points from the white paper include:

  • Trade: The government has reasserted its position that the UK UK will withdraw from the single market, with the eventual aim of seeking a new customs arrangement and a free trade agreement with the EU.
  • Immigration: A new system to control EU migration into the UK will be introduced, and could be phased in to give businesses vital time to prepare for the new rules.
  • British citizens living abroad and EU citizens living in the UK: The paper confirms that the government wishes to secure an agreement with the EU to guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK and those Britons living in Europe.
  • Sovereignty: Under the proposed plan, Britain will exit from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice but seek to set up its own legal framework to cover things like trade disputes and employment legislation.
  • Border: The government are aiming for “as seamless and frictionless a border as possible between Northern Ireland and Ireland.”
  • Devolution: As more powers come back to the UK from the EU in the negotiating process, the government have confirmed that it will look to give more powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is a move that it hopes will placate the predominantly remainer nations.
  • Security:  The document confirms that the UK will seek to continue working with the EU “to preserve UK and European security and to fight terrorism and uphold justice across Europe”. This will include remaining in Interpol, the European Arrest Warrant and cross border information sharing initiatives.

The white paper says the government aims to deliver “a smooth, mutually beneficial exit” but says this will require “a coherent and coordinated approach on both sides”.

The paper also reasserts the governments commitment that Article 50 will be triggered no later than the end of March.

Labour have criticised the white paper, saying that it “means nothing” and argued that it had been produced too late for meaningful scrutiny.

The criticism of the timing of the paper was echoed by leading Scottish National Party MP Steven Gethins who took to twitter to voice his disapproval.

The white paper will now pass to the committee stage of becoming a law, which allows for amendments to be made before it passes to the House of Lords for an upper chamber vote.

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“Taking control of our own laws”: David Davis, speaking earlier today in Parliament

Breaking Whispers-MP’s back Governments Article 50 bill

MP’s have voted overwhelmingly to back the governments European Union (Notification of withdrawal) bill in a parliamentary vote today.

The final count was 498 votes in favour with 114 votes against conferring a majority of 384.

The bill will now pass to the next stage in the political process, clearing the way for Prime Minister Theresa May to publish a government white paper on Brexit tomorrow.

Tonight’s vote followed weeks of speculation that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn would impose a three line whip on Labour MP’s, urging them to vote in support of the government.


What is a three line whip?

In the UK a three-line whip is an instruction given to Members of Parliament by the leaders of their party telling them they must vote in the way that the party wants them to on a particular subject. Or more roughly translated, vote as we all vote or you’re out.


Forty-Seven member of the Labour party defied their leaders wishes and voted against the government, along with members of the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats.

Labour Shadow Cabinet members Rachael Maskell who served as Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary and Dawn Butler who served as Shadow Equalities Minister resigned their front bench posts in order to vote against the government.

Prominent europhile and former Conservative chancellor Kenneth Clarke voted against the government after yesterday likening the Prime Ministers Brexit plans to Alice In Wonderland: “Apparently you follow the rabbit down the hole and emerge in a wonderland where suddenly countries throughout the world are queuing up to give us trading advantages and access to their markets that previously we’ve never been able to achieve.”

Today’s vote concludes two days of parliamentary debate on the Brexit bill.

The bill now faces further scrutiny in the Commons and the House of Lords before it can become law.

The prime minister has set a deadline of 31 March for invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, getting official talks with the EU started and this is the first of many steps to come in achieving this goal.

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Theresa May: Government to publish white paper on Brexit

Prime Minister Theresa May has today confirmed that the government will set out its Brexit plans in a formal government policy document- known as a white paper.

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Mrs May said she recognised an “appetite” for a white paper on her “bold” negotiations on exiting the EU

The move comes after pressure from the Labour party for greater clarity on the governments Brexit plans, initially set out in the Prime Ministers speech a week ago and after speculation that many in her own party (including some ex-ministers) wanted a white paper.

“It was a bit of a surprise but I’m incredibly delighted,” said Ben Howlett, the Conservative MP for Bath who had been calling for a white paper. “We haven’t discussed what amendments might or might not be put in. We’d been focusing our attention on getting a white paper.”

Speaking at Prime Ministers questions earlier today Mrs May said “I recognise that there is an appetite in this House to see that plan set out in a White Paper. I can confirm to the House that our plan will be set out in a White Paper published in this House.”

What is a White Paper?

white-paper-2Simply put, a white paper is a document or guide that informs readers concisely about a complex issue and presents the issuing body’s position on the matter. It is meant to help readers understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision. In this case the government is setting out it’s Brexit position in a way that is clear, concise and can be debated openly in Parliament.

Mrs May was quick to confirm that the white paper would be a completely separate issue to the article 50 debate, an action which will give the government much needed space to focus its efforts on the upcoming parliamentary debate on triggering article 50.

The Prime Minister said that the white paper would be “a bold vision for Britain for the future”.

Labour MP’s have called upon the government to have the white paper document ready in time for the parliamentary debates on the triggering of Article 50, scheduled in Parliament over the next few weeks in the run up to March 31st.

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Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, speaking at Prime Ministers Questions earlier today

A Labour spokesman said: “We now want to see the timing and it is clear the white paper needs to come to parliament in time for the debate … MPs have a right to be able to see what the government’s plan of action is. The speech is not adequate. It set out a wish-list of options.

“As we’ve said many times, Labour respects the decision of the British people to leave the EU and therefore will not frustrate the will of the British people. But respecting the will of the British people is very different from respecting the will of the British government. We need to see the plan and make sure the process is held to account in parliament at every stage.”

 

Breaking Whispers- Supreme Court rules no Brexit without Parliament approval

The UK Supreme Court has overwhelmingly rejected the Governments appeal to trigger Article 50 without Parliamentary vote in its ruling earlier today.

The ruling follows the earlier defeat of the Government in the high court in November and means it cannot use prerogative powers to trigger article 50 of the treaty of Lisbon, beginning Britain’s exit from the EU.

Eleven of the Twelve Supreme Court justices sat in on the case, with the ruling passing by a vote of 8 to 3 in favour of dismissing the appeal of the earlier high court decision.

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Lord Justice Neuberger delivering the courts ruling earlier today

In his summarising remarks, Lord Justice Neuberger said “Section 2 of the 1972 [European Communities] Act provides that, whenever EU institutions make new laws, those new laws become part of UK law. The 1972 act therefore makes EU law an independent source of UK law, until parliament decides otherwise.

Therefore, when the UK withdraws from the EU treaties, a source of UK law will be cut off. Further, certain rights enjoyed by UK citizens will be changed. Therefore, the government cannot trigger article 50 without parliament authorising that course.”

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Gina Miller speaking outside the Supreme Court Earlier today after the courts decision

Gina Miller, the campaigner who led the legal challenge against the Government welcomed the ruling saying “No prime minister, no government can expect to be unanswerable or unchallenged. Parliament alone is sovereign.”

In the wake of the Supreme Courts ruling David Davis, the governments minister in charge of exiting the EU delivered the government’s response in a parliamentary statement in which he announced the publication of a ‘straightforward’ Brexit bill to be put before Parliament in the coming days.

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David Davis announced a new Brexit bill would be put to the house within days

Addressing the ruling directly, Mr Davis said “This will be the most straightforward bill possible to give effect to the decision of the people and respect the supreme court’s judgement.”

He later reasserted the Government’s commitment to triggering Article 50 at the end of March saying that “This timetable has already been supported by this house.”

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Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer has called for greater transparency on Brexit

Labour’s shadow secretary for exiting the EU, Keir Starmer has called for the government to publish a white paper on Brexit saying “Labour accepts and respects the referendum result and will not frustrate the process. But we will be seeking to lay amendments to ensure proper scrutiny and accountability throughout the process. That starts with a white paper or plan. A speech is not a white paper or plan, and we need something to hold the government to account throughout the process. You can’t have a speech as the only basis for accountability for two years or more.”

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The Supreme Court said relations with the EU are “reserved to the UK government and parliament, not to the devolved institutions”

The Supreme Court has also ruled that UK ministers are not obliged to consult with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland during the Brexit negotiations. The Judges added that “the devolved legislatures do not have a veto on the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU.”

However the Government has said that it will include all of the devolved administrations in its deliberations in a move which will it hopes quell the dissent that is bound to occur in both the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

While many will question the need for this case, given the government’s willingness to include Parliament in the Brexit process (as indicated by Theresa May’s speech last Tuesday)  this writer regards the ruling as a victory for the British legal system in asserting the rights of its people.

Also, the case bought by Ms Miller and her compatriots has undoubtedly forced the government to rethink its position on Parliamentary inclusion in the negotiations with Mrs May’s speech and today’s Brexit bill being the natural result.

Breaking Whispers- Supreme Court to rule on prerogative Brexit

It has been confirmed today that the Supreme Court will deliver its ruling on the long running legal case against the government over Brexit on the 24th of January.

The ruling will confirm whether to reject or allow the government’s appeal against the earlier high court ruling that stopped the government from using prerogative powers to trigger Article 50 without first going to a Parliamentary vote.

The action follows the victory of campaigners Gina Miller and Deir Dos Santos at the high court in November 2016, in which three high court judges ruled against the government.

Reaction As U.K. Government Loses Brexit Lawsuit On Article 50 Legal Challenge

Campaigner Gina Miller, Pictured outside the High Court after the successful ruling in November 2016

In its appeal, the government is asking for all 11 judges in the Supreme court to overturn the high courts earlier decision on the grounds that the use of prerogative powers did not undermine the sovereign authority of Parliament.

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It is confirmed that all 11 Supreme Court justices will rule on the government’s appeal

It is unclear whether the government will choose to use prerogative powers should it win its appeal, especially after the Prime Ministers statement yesterday in which she affirmed the governments desire to give Parliament a vote on any Brexit deal.

While some might consider this an unnecessarily petty legal action by losing remainers, this reporter believes that these sort of actions are necessary to preserve the fundamental truth of Britain: We are a Parliamentary democracy.

 

 

International Whispers: Trump ‘keen’ to sign quick trade deal with UK after Brexit

President-elect Donald Trump has promised that the U.S. will sign a quick trade deal with the UK after the Brexit negotiations are concluded.

In an interview with former leave campaigner and cabinet minister Michael Gove for the Times newspaper, Mr Trump said that the UK was “so smart for getting out”. He went on to say  “We’re gonna work very hard to get it done quickly and done properly. Good for both sides.”

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President Elect Trump met with MP Michael Gove at Trump Tower in New York

 

Mr Trump’s words were in sharp contrast to outgoing President Barack Obama’s remarks during the EU referendum campaign, where he famously said that “the UK would be at the back of the queue” for any potential trade deal should it leave the EU.

The President-elect, who will be inaugurated on Friday in Washington, went on to criticise Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel’s stance on immigration calling it “obsolete”.

Mr Trump later said “I think she made one very catastrophic mistake and that was taking all of these illegals, you know, taking all of the people from wherever they come from. And nobody even knows where they come from,”

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Mr Trump said that the UK was ‘doing great’ in the wake of Brexit.

Later in the interview with Mr Gove, he turned his comments to NATO and called for more member states to commit to the target of spending the 2% of their respective national incomes on defence, a spending target that the UK is meeting and remains one of the few nations to do so.

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Defence Spending as a % of GDP- Source: NATO

With his inauguration looming, UK prime minister Theresa May will be keen to ensure that Mr Trump delivers on his promise to sign a trade deal with the UK, as this would be a boost to the economy and future success post Brexit.

View From the Green Seats: Theresa May’s Brexit plan finally revealed?

After months of speculation, press articles and speeches Theresa May has confirmed that she will reveal the Governments plans for Brexit in a speech to take place on Tuesday at Lancaster House, London.

The audience will comprise top level diplomats, ambassadors, high commissioners and the governments EU negotiating team. It is a move that will appease hard line Euroskeptics and remainers alike.

Widespread reports suggest that the government will pursue a so called ‘Hard’ Brexit, completely severing all ties with the European Union, but what does that mean?

Free Movement

The crux of the referendum campaign, immigration and free movement will form a cornerstone of the governments strategy and its negotiating position. While looking to impose restrictions on who can enter the UK, the government has to counterbalance the needs of those UK nationals abroad and to ensure that their rights are protected.

It is a position that will require a great deal of negotiation and compromise on both sides.

Restrictions imposed must allow for the necessary flow of foreign workers which are an increasingly vital part of the UK economy and by virtue essential to economic success.

You can expect a tough line from the government on this key issue, with the government likely to outline a changed immigration system which will take effect once the Article 50 negotiations are concluded.

Access to the Single Market

A market of over 500 million consumers, the European Union forms the largest economic market for the UK and our largest trading partner. However, it is a market that comes with certain constraints in both access and usage.

Constraint number one: All workers within the European Economic Area must be allowed to move freely between member states, with no one state imposing restrictions on movement of any kind.

Obviously this falls under the domain of the aforementioned immigration issue and with the government pursuing a harder line on immigration, this will form the crux of the decision on whether the UK chooses to remain within the single market. It is possible that a deal could be reached which would allow the UK to impose legitimate restrictions on immigration whilst retaining access to the single market, but such a deal does not fall into the Hard Brexit line that the government is keen to pursue.

Constraint number two: No member state may enter into trade agreement or compact independently of the European Union. All trade deals must be made with the agreement of all 28 states.

Despite the obvious advantages of allowing individual member states to sign trade agreements with other nations in the world, the EU has pursued a unified trade policy and as a consequence has been slowed down in its deal making process. As we have seen from the last few months, the number of nations wanting to sign individual trade deals with the UK is increasing at a substantive rate.

With a greater need to preserve increasingly fragile economic markets across Europe, there is a lot of wiggle room for the UK to achieve its goal of economic independence from the EU but retaining access to a necessary partner.

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Parliamentary Issues

We live in a parliamentary democracy and openness is essential to the political process in the UK. However, the Brexit negotiations represent a unique occasion in British politics, where openness is ultimately counterproductive. Think of it as a game of Poker, if you go into the game with your cards face up then your opponent will know what you hold and will be able to beat you far quicker than if you held them close to your chest.

The same is true of Brexit, openness leads to the EU knowing what issues are vital to the future of the UK and gives them an unfair advantage in the negotiating process. We do not have access to the EU’s negotiating position and they are unlikely to give a full account of it before article 50 is triggered.

That being said, if the current supreme court case is anything to go by parliamentary consent and access will be a vital component of the UK’s negotiating position and essential to preserving the role of parliamentary democracy. A negotiation without the consent or input of Parliament would invalidate the whole idea of the parliamentary system.

It is therefore likely that the Prime Minister will use Tuesday’s speech to unveil how the UK’s negotiating position will be debated in parliament and what role it will play in determining the elements of the negotiation.

Economic strategy

With the financial markets a volatile place since the Brexit vote last June, Theresa May will be keen to steady the ship and to outline a viable plan for long term economic success post Brexit.

As with anything, it’s easier to say than to make happen and the final economic strategy of the UK post brexit will depend on how well the EU negotiations go. A key element of any plan is to keep existing businesses here and to encourage new businesses to make their home in the UK.

Keeping the UK an attractive, financially viable prospect is essential and we can expect the government to outline measures to do so, such as the reduction of corporation tax and the relaxation of certain restrictive trade laws.

Financial markets thrive on certainty, confidence and stability. They fail in conditions of instability and uncertainty. Although the FTSE 100 has never been as high as it has in years, the value of Sterling has decreased with the uncertainty of post-brexit Britain.

A clearer strategy should remedy this decrease in value and encourage business to plan for the future in the UK.

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A government defined?

Theresa May’s speech on Tuesday will set the stage for the next five years of politics in the UK and will define her tenure as Prime Minister. Shaping the debate will show whether she can handle the task of taking the UK out of Europe or whether another should take her place.

With Labour on the skids, the Liberal Democrats a party in serious decline the opportunity to create a Conservative Brexit Britain is clear. Should she fail to deliver Brexit in the right way, it is highly likely that voters will turn to other political parties at the general election in 2020.

I for one am looking forward to hearing what she has to say.

 

 

 

The Party Line is………Perception

At any point in the day, our brain receives trillions of sensory impulses from our body which flow from our nerves directly to our brain for processing and interpretation. It is these impulses which shape how we perceive the world, covering everything from pleasure and pain to the baser level bodily functions.

The interpretation of this data by our brain shapes our perception of reality at the sensory level. At a psychological level this shaping is more pronounced, if we have a negative experience of reality we are far more likely to behave negatively and vice versa.

The shaping of reality or perception at a psychological level can be influenced by individuals through behavioural training and learning more about our own character. An entire industry exists, generating millions of pounds, to promote these ideas and to enable individual introspection, character adjustment and behavioural modification with the ultimate aim of becoming more positive and productive individuals.

Take the simple idea of sensory based reality, substitute the brain for the collective consciousness of society at a political and sociological level; you have an almost infinite range of perceptions and impulses, experienced by the society as a whole and reflected in what it does, how it acts and how it responds in the world.

As with the brain, this reality can be shaped, tailored and where applicable manipulated to suit the overriding imperative of the government or society where they are experienced.

So how does a society experience and perceive politicians?

A perception of a politician is experienced at many different levels:  there are the acts of the individual within their local community and how they are perceived, how society perceives them in relation to their wider party affiliation and how they exist in the public eye.

The first two can be controlled, or at least attempted to be controlled, by the politician through the medium of spin.  This is a low-level example of the manipulation of perception to ensure a positive outcome for that individual, in the same way that you would use behavioural training to shape your behaviour.

Spin is a product of the media age and media as a whole contributes dramatically to how a politician is perceived in the public eye. Once an individual enters public life, their life essentially becomes public knowledge, with their every move scrutinised and commented on by countless individuals, even more in the world of social media and the internet. Politicians experience this on a much more fatalistic level, with every misstep potentially contributing to the end of their political career.

Indeed once an individual involved in the political sphere makes a political gaffe, or is involved in a scandal, the media can shape the public perception to such a degree that the individual can no longer function as a politician.

These two necessary functions of modern politics sometimes work in synergy with each other, but the sheer levels of exposure and potential profit render the media far more likely to want to cause damage to a politician than prevent it (as seen this week with the Keith Vaz sex sting scandal).

The public largely perceive two types of politician: the institutional politician and the populist politician. The institutional politician is seen as a stuffy, privately educated individual who is more likely to want to enhance their own position rather than act in the best interests of the people. By contrast, the populist politician is seen as a self-made individual, someone who the common voter can relate to and retain an interest in, a true man or woman of the people.

Go up a level to the international stage and the perception/manipulation of it becomes less obvious, but wider ranging in its implications.  Shaping public perception of the country involved is a national occupation and is vital to the longer term success of that country.

Manipulation at this level involves a more subversive method: that of propaganda.  The use of propaganda has been one of the bedrocks of statecraft for almost 500 years now and is enjoying a renaissance in the age of the internet.

Propaganda can be used to assert, subvert and otherwise engender the ideology of the country using it or be used to destroy the ideology and people of a target country.

Overtly obvious use of propaganda today is largely confined to those restrictive regimes, who need the constant reassertion of their ideology to place their message into the minds of their people, thus shaping their perception to embrace that ideology fully.

In those less restrictive regimes, pronounced propaganda as asserted by a regime or government cannot exist because it would inevitably clash with the fundamental right of freedom of speech, i.e. the freedom to express a contrary opinion to the prevalent political line of that country. The contradiction between these two precepts forces the use of propaganda away from the political sphere and back into media sphere.

As with the politicians, the media can be used as a tool by the government to create negative opinion about opposing countries and regimes, shaping the public perception subconsciously and not endangering the fundamental freedom of speech rights.  Indeed, the media is perceived as the guardian of free speech, despite increasing evidence that it is becoming the mouthpiece of political parties and governments.

The one thing that this manipulation can sometimes struggle to keep up with is the change in political position in respect to a country. For example if a rogue country moves overnight from a totalitarian regime, which is universally hated, to a democratic regime, the government of the opposition country may need to soften its political stance towards it and change its relationship. We’ve seen it recently in the open dialogues between the USA and its old adversaries Cuba and Iran.  The public’s perception, previously shaped to a negative opinion of these regimes, had to be shifted to a positive one in the long-term to ensure the opening of good relations between the nations. Again the media and government play a part in moving this process forward.

Another recent example of this is the softening of the negative opinion on Britain leaving the European Union. During the referendum campaign extremely negative sentiments were expressed about the potential consequences of leaving and our eventual place in the world. Politicians, both domestic and foreign were keen to add their opinions to the seemingly unceasing tide of negative press about Brexit. However once the vote was concluded and the decision to exit confirmed by the UK government, the overriding need to proceed with the publicly voted for mandate prompted an almost immediate shift in media and government communications from being negative about the consequences to active examination and criticism of the implementation process.

The perception that a country has in the world can often have a negative impact on how that nation is treated by its neighbours in the international community.  For example, while the Russian federation does not exhibit any overtly evil or totalitarian qualities, it is perceived as being a totalitarian regime or “evil empire” when in fact the truth can be something entirely different.  This perception and the implementation of it by the other nations of the world causes much of the diplomatic conflict which exists between Russia and the wider community, particularly the USA who has been the historical enemy of Russia for many years.

Another example of this is how the USA is perceived in the Middle East.  With significant interests in the oil rich nations of the middle east, the USA has always been keen to provide stability for the region through support of vassal regimes and clients. Additionally, the USA has been the most ardent supporter of the state of Israel, viewing it as a key ally in the region.

This support and, dare I say it, interference in the affairs of the region, while well-intentioned, does not garner popular support from the various tribes and ethnic groups of the region. Combine that with a secular religion that does not view outsiders as friends and you have a recipe for extremist opposition. A sort of opposition that manifests itself in the various terrorist organisations that operate in the region, opposed to the interests of the USA and their perceived puppet states.

Consider the political effectiveness of a nation if it was in tune with how it is perceived in the world, has full cognisance of the consequences of its actions and is in possession of a coherent and appealing ideological standpoint. Such a nation would have the blueprint for longer term stability and success, effectively making itself immune to all potential issues which would arise in the course of its life.

With the obvious example of a politician in the public eye being able to shape his or her perception to suit their objectives, you have to wonder why more countries do not employ this sort of perception manipulation in their political armoury.  With so much at stake, can they afford not to?

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.