Jayne Dowle: Why do we feel so disengaged from this election?

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ALL General Elections are important. It is, however, fair to say that the one we have upon us in just a few short weeks is one of the most important for years. After five long years of a coalition Government, the nation has the chance now to make a choice between political parties which promise to deliver radically different versions of Britain. This power is in entirely in our hands. We should be gearing up, watching every move, listening attentively to every speech and making up our minds to make a rational decision. Why then are we so disengaged?

I’ve been here, there and everywhere over the Easter holidays. When I think about it, not one person I’ve chatted to has even mentioned the election, apart from at a community event when our local MP opened the proceedings. Even then, the big event was only referred to in passing. And although he was standing there in a room full of his constituents, I didn’t see a single person go up to him and ask him any kind of pertinent question.

An alien observer might be forgiven for not realising that anything was happening at all. At the moment, I think it’s fair to say that the general public will probably get more excited about the outcome of the Eurovision Song Contest. Shall I tell you why this is? It’s because we simply don’t trust politicians to tell us the time, never mind tell us what they plan to do with the country we live in.

It’s said that people reap what they sow. Never has this been more true than this General Election. What do politicians expect? They spend years in office and opposition spinning every policy announcement and telling us only what they want us to know. And then when they want us on their side, they expect us to fall into line, believe everything they say, and come out to bat for them. It’s too little, far too late. We’ve switched off. What we have ended up with is a deeply cynical nation which now believes that politicians are only in the game for what they can personally get out of it. Is it any wonder that we just can’t find it in ourselves to care?

What makes it worse is that the campaign itself – from all parties – has been absolutely riddled with stage-managed events and sterile “photo opportunities”.

The extent of the smoke-screen is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to see what individual politicians and parties stand for behind it. From David Cameron’s bogus “rallies” packed with activists waving placards in a barn to Tony Blair’s speech on Europe in his old seat of Sedgefield, situations are being manipulated to show politicians in a good light without the presence of too many bothersome members of the ordinary public to ask awkward questions. And this is not to mention members of the press. If reports are to be believed, uppity newspaper journalists, less amenable to the scripted soundbite than television reporters, aren’t even being told about public appearances until it is too late to turn up and find the real story.

The official reason given for all this shrouding and secrecy is “security”. Okay, so we live in dangerous times, but that’s no excuse for such excessive spin-doctoring. Or this obsession with keeping politicians away from unscripted contact with the public, like medieval monarchs afraid of contracting the plague.

Our political leaders now appear to have more protection than the Pope. Yet, look at it from their point of view. I suppose we should find it in our hearts to have a tiny bit of sympathy. Who can forget Gordon Brown’s hasty retreat from Rochdale pensioner Gillian Duffy on the 2010 General Election campaign when she publically took him to task over immigration? His less-than complimentary comments caught by a television news crew did him no favours. They did however, place an even bigger distance between “them” and “us”.

And what do we get to fill the yawning chasm? A series of stage-managed “glimpses” into the family lives of Cameron, Miliband and Clegg. As if footage of Ed taking the boys to school or the Camerons in the Commons is really going to convince us that our leaders are just like us. The spin-doctors and advisors highly-paid to orchestrate these events may well be clever graduates from the grandest universities but don’t they realise that it just doesn’t wash? When we see these happy family shots, all we do is wonder what is really
going on behind those political smiles that never quite reach the eyes.

Talk about lack of trust. What’s happening here is like a bad marriage. When the moment of reckoning finally dawns, and cards have to be placed on the table, there is simply no passion left. The fervour and commitment of previous times has been replaced with a resigned kind of ennui, a feeling of “let’s get this over with as quickly as possible”. It’s probably good for a divorce, but it’s no good whatsoever for democracy.

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