Monday, 4 May 2015

Dear Reader,

How do you feel about the government?  Are you planning to vote?

I feel as if I am asked this question often by both friends and strangers who feel either fervency or complete despair, and are looking for affirmation. Some of those I respect and admire are spending their time campaigning against certain parties or politicians, whilst others actively switch off when the election is mentioned, explaining that they are so disillusioned with the whole thing that they don't wish to even discuss it.  What do they have in common, these intelligent, thoughtful, interesting people?  A wholly negative reaction, whether focused specifically on one group or person, or just a general revulsion to the whole kit and caboodle.  Have you met anyone who has anything truly positive to say about the election?  I'm not sure I have.

One thing I know - we have more access to information than ever.  I can look up the voting records of my local politicians (see here, for example), read the party manifestos in full, compare policies on issues I am interested in (here is an example) and yet I, like many others, feel less sure of this election than ever before, in the sense of not only who to vote for, but even if I should vote at all.  I am a fairly mainstream citizen.  I am a female, teacher, mother, girlfriend, homeowner.  But there is no-one out there speaking my truth, no-one in the political arena I feel is interesting, trustworthy, representative of me, even the same species as me.  Instead I watch the TV and despair as suited robots blink furiously under TV lights and give either a terrible, or brilliant, performance of 'Evasion: the Interview'.  The information they, and the media, provide is not information at all, but propaganda, meaningless jumbles of words like 'new' and 'promise' and 'changes' and 'improve' and 'families'.

This leaves choosing based on either policies alone, or the 'personalities' of the leaders. Essentially, the latter is choosing who to be head of the country based on how well they can pretend not to panic, whether I like the colour of their tie, or the wideness and sincerity of their grin.  But there's the rub - I am an introvert, and I know many people - thoughtful, intelligent, interesting people - who are fantastic leaders but also introverts.  They most likely wouldn't have a wide and sincere grin on TV.  They probably wouldn't want to be on TV.  They would feel so uncomfortable with self-promotion that, asked why they were fit to the lead the country, they'd say something self-deprecating or funny instead of something arrogant and meaningless.  They would listen to the interviewer, and listen to others with opposing points of view, and listen to people asking them questions, and think carefully about their answers (which would make for terrible TV, I'm sure). They might even admit they'd made mistakes, not as a publicity stunt but because they actually have, and they see no reason to lie about it.

Of course, I'm generalising here.  Much of this behaviour isn't about being an introvert or an extrovert, but about being controlled by a PR team and making interesting TV programmes and the ridiculous constraints of our political system and its concomitant media.  However, I have yet to see or read about or hear a politician who represents me as in introvert in any substantial way, because politics is set up for extroversion.  Politicians before an election have to do a list of things that almost exclusively make up my top five 'most hated' activities: meeting and greeting hundreds of strangers; making fake-engaging chit-chat; being endlessly photographed; looking assertive when you are put in new and uncomfortable situations; making speeches where you aren't allowed to say anything at all (OK, that last one sounds quite fun).  No wonder I feel alienated from these people.

So that leaves me with policies.  This should be easy -  there are, after all five or six parties out there that I can choose from. But again, being an introvert comes into play here.  It's not enough for me to know that your party 'wants to cap immigration'.  It's like meeting someone at a party who says that - I'd want to know why, and at how much, and what sort of immigration, and what about war refugees, and does the level of employment count, and all sorts of other wonderful things.  Ultimately, this would become about personality again, because I'd be asking those questions to determine if the person (or party) seemed thoughtful, interesting and intelligent, because then I could trust them to make decisions on my behalf.

But policies are made in response to popular opinion, like some particularly alarming Kickstarter.  If people shout loudly for racism, politics responds.  Whilst it may be true that the parties still broadly stand for one political area, the policies they advocate often seem to make little sense in that context - to the extent where I agree with almost all of them on at least one issue, but not one of them on most or all.  If we are going to vote on policies, we may as well do it right.  I would feel much more comfortable at the voting booth filling in a policy vote on, say six main areas than making a ridiculous and bad overall decision as the system currently stands.

The latter seems to be the crux of the problem for me.  My introversion means I enjoys making careful and thoughtful decisions, of which voting should be one of the most important.  I have access to more information than my grandparents could have dreamed of.  And yet I know that the choice of who to vote for isn't going to be well-informed or intelligent, but a last resort; because all the things I want to choose have been taken out of my hands and I am left with nothing but a primary-coloured, dumbed-down version of choice.