How the spectacle of politics is running the day
Has politics lost all sense of reality, creating a spectacle at the expense of public voices?
On Sunday whilst walking through Hyde Park I couldn’t help but keep checking my Twitter feed; had Hillary Clinton announced her candidature yet? I turned to my friend and explained that Hillary was going to announce at some point today (probably with a mix of excitement and dread based on her confused reaction). I kept checking in on the Guardian live blog, pondering over who had said what and waiting to see if any promo material had been released yet. The strange thing is that I’m not particularly a fan of Hillary’s and nor have I been paying much attention to US politics, so why was I so captivated and full of anticipation?
Later that evening I saw that she had finally announced, and so I took a look around her website and watched the video. Both Facebook and Twitter were buzzing with excitement, hardly anybody could believe something so amazing could happen. People in the UK were already asking where they could buy merchandise, how they could get involved. Just about every newspaper, political blog and journo had something to say. But was I #ReadyforHillary?
Hillary’s political celebrity status and fanbase are so big that of course the internet would go wild, the announcement was expected and people were excited. Newspaper columnists and political strategists had been preparing for this day. Yet the strange thing about all this was just how disconnected it seemed to any particular issue. People were excited because it was Hillary and because it was the US Presidency. It was like a blockbuster film had come out, and people were excited because of the main character. Everything seemed to be happening through a glass screen and you could watch in awe and clap with glee, but it didn’t seem all that real.
In the UK we are now less than a month away from the General Election and something similar is happening. Quickly this election has felt more like a television drama or a political stage production than real-life. Political parties choreographing press-briefings and conference-style launches, with party members surrounding their leaders and obediently clapping and cheering. Each group launching attacks on one another, as the political geeks track any shift in the polls and journos fight to defend their own interests. In this short war until 7th May the public are left out of the debate, as if they are the peasants in a medieval world where the knights and the kings fight it out for the thrown.
I think something so clever about the Green Party’s recent election broadcast, Change the Tune, was how it has really captured what I feel is this spectacle of politics. In the video the main party leaders are together making a music video about the current political situation, which is cut short by the Green Party narrator. In reality this is not dissimilar, as the overly produced and stage-managed briefings and launches turn into their own form of satire. Is politics just about this strange world of stage, where politicians feature as stars, the media act as script writers and the public are the beleaguered audience?
Of course the real fight for 7th May isn’t in this mirror image world managed by the political parties and the media. This election, like any other, will be won by conversations and local campaigns. This election, like any other, will be won by the public casting their ballots on the day. What we’re missing out on nationally in this election is the opinions of where the public think our country should go in the future, and what the big issues are for different groups. The spectacle is replacing much needed public voices. So my cry is this – coming up to the election, let’s talk a lot less of the ups and downs of polls and the choreographed launches of the mainstream. I think it’s about time we gave the public a voice, and not just ourselves.