Watch this video. It’s a clip of Michelle Obama campaigning at a rally with Hillary Clinton. Can you see how enthusiastic everyone is? They seem both happy and genuinely excited about politics.
Now think back to the UK General Election last year. Can you think of a single candidate that got people even half as excited as these Americans? Maybe Nicola Sturgeon or at a push Nigel Farage but certainly not any of the three main candidates (David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband). OK, I know that Americans are more enthusiastic about this sort of thing and I get that it was a rally full of women who have a chance of getting a female president for the first time but just think about it.
When Theresa May was made Prime Minister (only the second female PM in UK history) did anyone feel that way? Even though in the US turnout at elections is on average 10% lower than in the UK, and this year’s candidates have been called the worst ever, at least some Americans get excited about politics. How can you watch that rally and say that they aren’t excited? I write a blog on UK politics but I wouldn’t say that it excites me. Interests me maybe…
So why is it? Maybe the feeling in the UK that our politicians are out of touch with the population. Theresa May was applauded by pundits for having a cabinet with only 30% of ministers being privately educated. In David Cameron’s cabinet this figure was an astonishing 50%. For context, 7% of the British population went to private school.
Maybe it’s the notion of a lack of choice. Personally, I disagree with that. In America you have 2 parties that receive a minimum of 90% of the vote when put together. Plus, both the Democrats and the Republicans are right-wing; it’s just a question of which party is more so. Here in the UK, the 2 biggest parties received a combined total of just 66% of the vote. We have far(ish)-left parties like the Greens and far-right parties like UKIP as well as nationalist parties such as Plaid Cymru and the SNP. So lack of choice isn’t a good enough explanation for me.
What about how fewer people in the UK actively engage in politics? Here, around 1.6% of the electorate are members of a party. In France, which receives 80-90% turnout at general elections, that figure is around 2%, a difference of perhaps half a million people: still not significant enough.
Finally, the belief that your vote won’t make a difference. In the UK, it’s always been the Conservatives or Labour governing. Next year in France, there are more parties in the mix: the Socialists, the Republicans, Marine le Pen’s National Front… But then again, in the US it’s just one party or the other.
I think that the answer to the question isn’t any of these reasons. The most significant reason, and for me the real reason that we Brits hate politics is the fact that people (and especially young people) don’t identify with politicians in the UK. The parties need to do more to get more people who identify with both the youth and ordinary voters because that is precisely the reason that Jeremy Corbyn has such a huge mandate among Labour members: people are fed up with the political elite. People feel that politicians don’t represent them. That’s why Brits hate politics, and I can’t see it changing. Ever.