THE BLOG
29/06/2015 12:14 BST | Updated 28/06/2016 06:59 BST

In Defence of Politicians

How on earth did this indifference and apathy set in? Why do we have this attitude that MPs are some different species altogether? Why do we demand they know the price of a pint of milk as if this is a perfect indicator of the political clout they hold?

Election after election, politicians scratch their heads as to why the public has a negative attitude towards them. The median voter thinks the political class are self-interested, that they do everything to protect the establishment at any cost and are out-of-touch with what ordinary people think. They see a tribal style of politics where parties don't give credit where credit is due and often feel lied to and manipulated. They feel as if politicians aren't real agents of change and whoever they vote for, won't make a bloody bit of difference. Populist rhetoric means that voters think that power lies in the hands of the rich and the media and therefore find politicians to be redundant and irrelevant.

How on earth did this indifference and apathy set in? Why do we have this attitude that MPs are some different species altogether? Why do we demand they know the price of a pint of milk as if this is a perfect indicator of the political clout they hold?

I was once apathetic and sceptical of the interests of the political class. My attitudes were seriously influenced by the expenses scandal of 2009, the occupation of Iraq and politicians' inability to effectively regulate a banking sector in which led to a global crash to which ordinary people are still bearing the brunt of. This is nothing unusual and it is a totally rational response. My inability to differentiate between the market economy and the political class was also significant, as I blamed politicians for silly things, like when the price of unleaded petrol rise per litre rose above the £1 mark.

Politicians would annoy me as they knocked on my front door for my vote in whatever election it may be and I struggled to understand the psyche of student friends who would go and knock up doors on a Saturday morning whilst I would still be rotting in my bed nursing a hangover from the night before.

But it came a point, only at the beginning of this year where I promised a friend in a student radio debate, who was one of the annoying door-to-door canvassers, where I promised I would put my money where my mouth was and actually go canvassing and get to know a couple of these alien and out-of-touch MPs.

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And this is where my attitude changed.

During the generous Easter holiday break of this year, as all students are aware of, I helped out a local candidate to try and secure some essential votes in a marginal seat. And I was surprised to learn that the voters were actually pretty friendly and pretty engaged. Voters wanted to know what MPs could do for them and were not these apathetic droids that I previously thought. Of course, there would be the odd person here and there: 'YOU'RE ALL THE SAME' was the classic line to emerge by those dissatisfied.

And then the MPs themselves. Again, it was surprising to see that these MPs could actually speak to people about normal things. I do not see why this was so shocking. They are human after all. Even when a voter would turn the candidate down, a pleasant conversation would still be constructed, a world apart from the bitter and distasteful abuse trolls dish out on Twitter.

I started to look beyond self-interest and started to see politicians who actually wanted to make a difference for the people they were to represent and who felt an enormous sense of pride in serving their constituents, or who wanted the opportunity to serve in public life.

As for my 'tribal politics' concerns; well politics is just that- tribal. People have different ideas about where to take the country forward and these differences can be significant. But they all share one common goal- they all feel their direction or vision is the best possible vision for the country. And to go into politics, your convictions have to be unbelievably strong to pursue them through a profession that isn't at all popular and which always turns ugly.

As someone who used to make foolhardy accusations of politicians I now get deeply frustrated now when people make similar accusations. When people accuse the Tories of deliberately trying to 'punish the poor' or Labour of 'stealing from the rich' I scratch my head. If I could talk to sixteen year old Charlie, I would ask: do you think politicians are really this sick to do these things? Undoubtedly the lure of power is an attractive one, but the lure of public service is even stronger.

The public needs to understand this: MPs are human. They experience the same emotions as anyone else. They feel saddened when a soldier loses his life to poorly executed foreign policy; they feel proud when they see a constituent get back into work after a long time on unemployment benefit; they feel depressed and anxious when they receive a string of hate tweets.

I used to think MPs didn't have our interests at heart. But I've changed my mind after just working and talking to some of them. Yes, they make a lot of mistakes, yes they fail to understand certain problems, in particular the needs of the young with respect to mental health, but it's their character which we should all be questioning and scrutinising the motives and desires of these individuals. Once we all start to do that, trust in the political class will improve and we will be pleasantly surprised with the results.