Distraction politics

Further evidence for my conspiracy theory regarding our political leaders ongoing ambitions to become big players on the European stage, by the use of distraction. Localism would seem to be the perfect vehicle for this strategy.

As an ambitious national politician, who wants to become a player on the European stage, it’s extremely annoying to have your electorate calling for you to withdraw from that stage. In order to stop the masses from interfering in your plans to become a big wheel in Europe, you need to give them something else to get involved in. One way of doing this, is by making them think that they can make a difference at the local level. Which leads me to a recently published survey.

‘Public involvement and interest in political processes have plummeted to fresh lows, the Hansard Society’s annual ‘audit of political engagement’ has found.

However, the prospect of civic involvement at the local level has provided a ray of hope in what is otherwise a gloomy assessment of the state of democracy in the UK.

The society’s ninth audit found that the “growing sense of indifference to politics” found in last year’s report had now “hardened into something more serious”. Based on a national poll of more than 1,000 people and a series of focus groups run between November and March, the audit found evidence of a “public that is increasingly disengaged from national politics”.

The proportion of people saying they are ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ interested in politics has plummeted by 16 percentage points to just 42% – the first time the figure has dropped below 50% since the audit was first run in 2004. More people than ever – 15% – claim to know ‘nothing at all’ about politics.

But the audit also found evidence of a growing willingness to engage in local civic life.

The public’s sense of the efficacy of local involvement increased by five percentage points in a year to 56%, largely on the back of an increase in perceived local efficacy among people from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) backgrounds. Despite this, just two-fifths of people (38%) said they were willing to get more involved in local decision making, down from 43% the year before.’

So it would seem that the strategy is working. People are loosing interest in what their politicians are getting up to, thereby allowing those politicians to ignore the things that do upset the public, such as the EU power grab, the EU budget, immigration and so on.

However, just in case the public do begin to get too interested in their activities, politicians have come up with a distraction strategy, using ‘a power to the people’ agenda. Labour started the distraction process with their idea for quality parish councils, designed to take over some of the services currently delivered by higher level councils. Localism, Community Right To Challenge, Neighbourhood Planning, Free Schools, Academies may well be this government’s way of continuing the process.

Universal benefits, but not universal access?

The following information has just been emailed to all councillors out by a national organisation and should make us all elected members pause for thought. I agree completely with the government’s wish to see the benefits system reformed and the cost of it brought under control. I also believe that it is fundamentally wrong that somebody should be able to collect more money in benefits than they get from full time employment.

However, given the figures below, introducing a system that relies so heavily on Internet access seems like it is going to come with some significant problems for those who will be relying on it for their basic needs.

“The introduction of Universal Credit is less than 18 months away.

The Government says it will be delivered over the internet but the latest statistics from the Office for National Statistics show that at Quarter 4, 2011

· 1 in 6 adults – 8.2 million adults in the UK – have never used the internet
· 4.85 million women and 3.36 million men have never used the internet
· 3.98 million disabled adults have never used the internet
· 8.1 per cent of adults earning less than £200/week have never used the internet

The absence of a local service could have major implications for your constituents. They may be unable to access their tax credits and benefits.”

A flag for England?

Notwithstanding the title of this entry, we of course have a flag for England – the Cross of St George. Unfortunately, this symbol has been high-jacked by certain ultra-right extremist groups of various titles over the years and this has made some people nervous about using the flag, but it’s high time the decent and right minded people of England claimed it back and took every opportunity to display it with pride.

An article in today’s Sunday Telegraph had a rather unfortunate opening sentence for me. Apparently the English flag was what gave England an identity during the Crusades. What little I know about the Crusades – a gang of religious zealots, lead by the king of the time, leg it off to a foreign land to pick a fight with the locals – means that it’s not a story that makes me proud to be English.

However, back to the present day and the need to take back ownership of the Cross Of St George as the national flag of England. If an English athlete, running for Britain in this or that international competition – there seems to be so many these days, (I think there’s another one happening in London sometime soon, but I can’t remember what it’s called!) – wants to don a flag to mark their win, should it be the English flag, or should it be the Union Flag?

Welsh and Scottish athletes don’t seem to have any difficulty rejecting their Britishness when the spotlight is on them. They celebrate their victory by draping their respective flags over their shoulders and jogging off around the stadium, grinning with pride and waving at the crowd. No doubt there be a number of non-Brits (and probably a few less bright Britons) who will confused by a race winner who, according to the race programme, started the race as British, but who is now running a victory lap with a colourful, but unrecognisable cloak draped over their shoulders!

So, if English born athletes were to adopt this practice, they would have to be prepared for some confusion over their national identity. So what? I say, as long we English know what it means, the rest of the world will catch on eventually.