Let’s kick politics out of the playground

I’m no political activist myself, but I am, and always have been, grateful for the fact I live in an established and stable democratic system. Political theory of any kind fascinates me – right, left, centre, upside down, Hunger Games… I think when it comes to politics in practice we’ve got it about right.

I’ve always thought of British politics (very much like the quintessential British person) as polite and keen not to rock the proverbial boat. Fair enough, we do have our own extremes (albeit within certain parameters) and our last century has seen its fair share of upset, but really we’re quite measured as a nation – perhaps it’s no coincidence that we don’t have an equivalent figure to Hitler, Mussolini or Mao in our recent history.

I’m relatively new to this voting lark: this is only the second general election I’ll take part in; my first was as a starry-eyed student back in 2010, and this one happens to be my first as a taxpayer. And while my interest is in the politics and what that means for the running of the country, that isn’t what I thought of when I came to write some words around it. The more I see of the spectacle currently playing out around Westminster, the more my focus is pulled from what matters – the policies and pledges – and drawn to the way in which it’s all being conducted: the playground politics.

Whether it’s the politicians, their respective support teams, the media or the general public, we’ve all been, at some point or another, guilty of letting the circus take over the substance behind the run-up to polling day and what happens after that.

Gambling with our future

I’m clicking through my usual news pages one morning, days before the election. Rather than being able to focus on the latest details of the political goings-on, I am instead distracted by a garish wrap ad, calling on me to “BET ON THE GENERAL ELECTION”. We, as a nation, are betting on the election like we’d bet on a hand of poker or a horse race. Step aside Mayweather and Pacquiao – we’ve got all the sporting drama we need from our very own political party leaders. I’m not anti gambling but there’s a time and a place, surely?

A Ladbrokes banner ad urging the public to bet on the general election.

The sportsmanship – or lack thereof – doesn’t stop there. I recently had dinner with a friend who used to work in political communications. Her roles varied, but one in particular saw her on the campaign trail with a certain high-profile candidate. For each day of the campaign she, along with her team, would prepare a round-up of the daily events to push out to the press. Sounds pretty standard, right? I thought so too, until she told me that putting a positive and press-worthy spin on their own activity was the easy bit. The team’s remaining energy was dedicated to finding and reporting any possible detail of the opponent’s shortcomings or mistakes for that day; any scrap of negativity that could possibly be made into a story was exploited.

None of that sits quite right with me. Not only are we betting on this election horse race, but the horses themselves are dedicating as much energy to picking fault with their fellow racers as they are to crossing the finish line first on their own merit. I can’t help but think that’s a somewhat petty and disappointing strategy for any organisation that professes itself as ready and responsible enough to take charge of 64 million people and an annual public spend in excess of £700 billion.

Enough’s enough

Let’s stop the negativity. My attention span (in this case, specifically as a constituent and voter – but the same rule applies with non-political brands wanting my buy-in too) is limited and precious. Every single day, I receive a barrage of messages through advertising, social media and news publications, and I appreciate it can be tough for politicians, brands and anyone else trying to communicate, to make themselves heard through that noise. But here’s the thing: when you do have my attention, I don’t want to hear why your opponent is the wrong choice for me. I want to hear why you’re the right one, whether I’m your constituent – or your customer. Tell me why you should win this race, not why someone else should lose.

Politics is not without its drama and scandal (who doesn’t love reading about a good Profumo affair?), but let’s not lose sight of the point: there’s a country to run. The decision around who should be in charge should be conducted with some of that wonderful, well-mannered British decorum that we’re so often teased about. No low blows and no wagering when it comes to choosing our country’s caretaker.

Keep it clean, Westminster.


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