Belfast, Westminster, Washington, and, actually, many of Europe’s political capitals are experiencing electoral disgruntlement. This sentiment has emerged not just due to expenses and similar scandals; ultimately, it is because politics has become so far removed from the life of the average person, and with mainstream political parties having shared similar ground for so long, voters consider themselves as having little or no alternative. Likewise, few political leaders recently have had bold, imaginative visions to offer.
In Northern Ireland, revelations of politicians overindulging in expenses and hiring staff on the basis of familial relations as opposed to merit have angered voters, yet support remains high for political agreement on divisive issues like flags, parades and the legacy of past conflict. It is the lack of a tangible alternative, in terms of governing structures and party politics that has deprived Stormont of accountability, credibility, has weakened participation at the polls and spurned accusations that all our politicians are the same.
Elsewhere, the rise of the so-called “people’s army,” UKIP dominates news headlines, yet Nigel Farage isn’t saying anything on immigration and Europe that he hasn’t been saying for years. Disillusionment with the Westminster elite has given the political kiss of life to the marginalised. The three establishment parties are suffering from lack of leadership and resulting failure to differentiate themselves. In response to opinion polls, we see these parties shifting to the political right on issues like immigration when it is actually the economy that looks set to decide the next general election.
Reports that George W. Bush’s brother, Jeb Bush, is considering standing for US President in 2016 coincide with expectations that Hillary Clinton will run for the Democrat nomination; a farcical combination which typifies the incredible scenario that American politics currently finds itself in. Bush versus Clinton may make for good television drama but such expectations only highlight how far removed US politics is from the average person. In America, the family name and brand reigns supreme, although unlike our other cases, financial firepower alone easily exhausts any prospect of an alternative to the two-party system there.
Family dynasties, unrivalled fundraising prowess and spin over policy discussions have led many voters to think that politics ought to be left to a certain ilk within society, as more and more turn their backs on party establishments or shun politics altogether. All politics is local; good politics is about engagement, proposing ideas, genuine debate, challenging each other and the status quo. Should politicians at the highest levels continue to let the media, pollsters and their own personal preferences or world views dictate where society’s interests lie, they risk breeding further disenchantment and, worse, even lower participation.