Following today’s political discourse, in this country especially, is exhausting. The same series of events appears to occur time and time again. A question arises, speculation and debate are publicised, yet in the end nothing changes. It would seem, to an outsider, that British politics is collapsing in on itself. Parties are divided, leaders are weak and progress unattainable. The political coverage on many major news channels is enough to put anyone off. To some, politics can appear aloof, something which only politicians and journalists can engage in. This could not be further from the truth.
‘The personal is political,’ a phrase synonymous with second-wave feminism, rings true for everyone. Many of the decisions that we make on a daily basis can be linked back, in some way, to politics. The clothes we wear, the food we eat and the education we obtain are all connected, in one way or another, to a political decision. Whether we like it or not, politics is at the centre of modern life.
Our universities are a prime example. The institutions into which so many of us put time and effort, are deeply entrenched in political decision-making. The funding they receive, the causes they support and the research which they progress is all dependent upon underlying political choices. The University College Union strikes last year, which affected so many of us in different ways, were an act of political defiance against governmental policies which seem to be driving our education system further and further down a route of commercialisation. Even if you did not take part in the strikes, stayed away from the picket lines or refused the flyers, the action which took place on our university campus and the campuses of hundreds of universities across the country, brought politics right to the heart of the student experience.
Yet despite the immediacy of politics in our daily lives, so many of us still feel disengaged with all things political. Excuses like “I don’t know enough,” “I don’t know who I would vote for” or “I’m not really interested” seem common, despite us living in a society which can appear dominated by politically charged voices.
So much of today’s politics is concerned with allegiance and opinion. Who you vote for is more important than why you vote for them. Twitter is constantly alive with debate, clashing loyalties fight it out on issues which become convoluted and drawn-out, losing sight of the fundamental question and descending into personal attacks.
As mentioned earlier, for many, not having an opinion on political issues is the very reason they stay away from political debate. It has become apparent that we have gone too far down the rabbit hole of factional politics and are losing sight of what really matters, substance.
Opinion is distraction; knowledge is power.
We must strive for a higher level of knowledge of the issues which inform our political climate. Deciding one’s political allegiance should be secondary to and dependent upon this. A level of knowledge for the policies on which you are voting is imperative before entering the ballot box. It should not matter who you vote for, as long as your vote is backed up by a level of research and consideration.
An easy way to gain a wider understanding and knowledge of the issues affecting politics today is keeping up with the news and current affairs, chatting to your peers about their opinions on various issues or listening to any number of the countless political podcasts that are on offer. Delving into the wealth of resources out there will help you to find some way to educate yourself on the important issues which may, one day require your attention. Our access to the world of politics is not and should not be seen as a luxury, it is a necessity.
To sit back and ignore the world of politics is a choice which we in this country are lucky to have. We must not take our democracy for granted. People have fought for hundreds of years to secure the democratic rights that are afforded to us today. Elsewhere in the world, for so many, the right to participate in political decision making is not an option. Let us not forget that activists in countries that are not so fortunate, still do fight for the right for their voices to be heard, with some putting their lives on the line for such a cause.
Therefore, we must strive to acknowledge the importance of an understanding of and active participation in politics. Claiming disinterest or disaffection should not be an excuse when so much in our lives is influenced, dependent upon and down to politics. Turning away from the noise and disruption of our obsession with factions and placing a greater emphasis upon knowledge, substance and cooperation will allow us to progress and to make the most of the democratic system we are so fortunate to have.
Illustration: Gabriel Morintin