Explain the rise of ‘Anti-Politics’ in Britain.
Anti-politics is the ‘rejection of party and electoral politics’ and takes many forms in our society such as growing distrust of career politicians by holding negative attitudes towards them, hatred of partisan politics; and disaffection with democracy through a decrease in turnout and turning out to the elections. There are many reasons for the rise of Anti Politics in Britain. However, many of the reasons may point to a new way of engaging in politics, instead of the traditional route of voting at a polling station. The idea of ‘Anti politics came about due to many statistics of falling turn outs to polling stations found in many different censuses such as the ONS. There had previously been a ‘golden age’ of democratic engagement half a century ago where voter turnout in the post war period where there was a phenomenon called ‘stealth democracy’ where society felt the need to vote was a duty, however, there has been quite a decline in the amount of turnout since then with an average turnout of only 42.
3% in local elections in the UK. However, it has been argued that there was never a ‘golden age’ of democracy originally due to a proportion of citizens disapproving governments and prime ministers, believing that politicians are only self-interested, meaning they do not work for the welfare of society. There is also a crisis of representative democracy. There are many measures used by political scientists when looking at whether there is even a representative democracy at all, these measures are as followed; voter turnout, party membership, trust in politicians and an interest in politics. I will go through the many reasons as the why there has been a rise of anti-politics and the way many engage in politics in a different way to traditional forms of democratic engagement. We will look at the various statistics surrounding anti politics and the behaviour of citizens in the democratic Britain.Before we examine the many reasons for the rise of anti-politics, we need to understand the current state of being ‘pro- politics’ and what that actually means. The idea of being pro politics means engaging in politics in a way that is seen as normal in’ society.
This can be through ways such as turning out to polling stations to vote, having membership to a political party and even just having a positive democratic attitude or a focus on politics at all. People may focus on politics; however, they focus on the negative aspects of it, an example is that more and more people disapprove of the government due to politicians being judged as money thieves and only caring for themselves; a statistic to support this is that in 2014 only 10% of citizens believed that politicians were mainly out to do the best for their country. All the reasons I shall state will link back to the way in which people perceive being pro politics. The adjective partisanship means being ‘prejudice in favour of a particular cause; bias’s and has a powerful influence on political behaviour within developed democracies (Brader and Tucker,2009). The prejudices can be shown in different ways, so you can favour a cause by factors or characteristics, such as social class, geography or age and background, this was found due to voting analysis that had started in 1945 and found that the biggest factor in the way people vote is social class but many other factors said can have this effect too.
An example of this in the IPSOS MORI 2010 survey found that ethnic minorities were less likely to vote and that 76%-year olds were the most likely to vote, which shows how having certain characteristics can influence the way you vote and whether you vote at all. The way in which this influenced political behaviour. Butler and Stokes (1963) argued that behaviour of a voter is more shaped by attitudes towards the party image, rather than being informed on its issues. Citizens saw the party image as a prime example on why they should have a party membership- a party membership is a prime part of creating a relationship between a citizen and that party, which can aid in raising voters. Unfortunately, there has been an increase in parties being marketized to turn into businesses and having more self-interest than anything else. However, in more recent years, there has been a shift in the way people vote, people are less likely to vote due to ‘fitting into’ that certain party’s social divides, but due to whether they agree or not.
Dunleavy (1983) identifies elements that may have contributed to the new patterns of voting called partisan de-alignment which has led to electoral volatility, the idea that we switch This explanation links to American political scientist Robert David Putnam’s, in his infamous book ‘Bowling Alone’ he argues that in society we are becoming fragmented creating distance from family, neighbours and friends then leading to democratic figures – this is called a decline in social capital. He uses the activity of ‘bowling’ to explain this by saying that there has been an increase in the amount of people bowling, but not those in big groups, just individually. If we bowl alone, we can’t have the same result if we don’t involve ourselves with people and have interactions to try and create a better result at the end. Butler and Stokes (1963) believed that your socialisation in family led to which type of party you would identify with and your intentions to vote. What has been found in recent times is that people do not identify with a certain party at all. An example of this is in Dagenham 2006, it was a very traditional Labour area, but voted for the British National Party instead. This is linked to a rise of anti-politics as it doesn’t allow for citizens to be identified to a certain party, in other words not have party membership with one group, but any group they decide is best that year. This is unfortunately decreasing that relationship that there once was between politician and citizen, which used to be crucial in a representative democracy.
Another explanation of the rise of anti-politics is having a lack of proficiency so lacking high skills or expertise on how to solve our issues in society, specifically politicians. An example used by many is the party UKIP restricting appearances to the European Parliament and replying to this problem by saying “But so what?” Paul Nuttall guardian article. Politicians such as Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, has painted a picture of himself in media as ‘Everyman’- a man for every identity of person, however, this has been interpreted as untrustworthy behaviour such as being pictured with alcohol and cigarettes, showing his lack of professionalism and care for the needs of society. His behaviour has been taken as lacking the knowledge to try and fix things in our society, by the various headlines and pictures that have been put into media, which then feeds into the idea that citizens feel that politicians have a lack of proficiency. This is part of the idea that the attitudes towards politics make a huge difference to the way in which we react to politicians. However, this picture painted of Nigel Farage has been good for populists. They are being different from politicians as they are representing ‘the people’ against those politicians who have other intentions., this in turn creates a more negative feeling towards the parties in formal politics, which in turn increases the support of UKIP or other populist parties.
The increased negativity can be found in the findings of an Ipsos MORI survey for the BBC, 2009, the British public were questioned on whether they were satisfied or not with how their society was being governed. The results found in 1973 found that 49% of the public believed that the system of governing need a great deal of improvement and increased in 2009 to 75%. This shows that there is a negative sentiment around how society feels Westminster can do to solve issues in society due to their self-image The previous point links perfectly into the next reason as to why there has been an increase in anti -politics, due to the existence of powerlessness with the actual politicians and voters, due to the insecurity of those who are powerful. There have been many instances of insecurity in Westminster such as in 2013, David Cameron pledged an EU referendum to try and keep the party together, Labour gave away the power to create interest rates, due to believing markets don’t trust them to run an economy, all forms of insecurity within government. It is not only the politicians who may feel powerless, but the actual voters then are affected by this form of insecurity as when it comes to solve the issues, politicians cannot help so we feel as if even voting will not make a difference.
If we look at small examples of ways we need our local MPs or politicians, such as when finding affordable rent, it’s never the politicians to help. A lot of issues that people care for and want solved, are not being solved due to essentially passing the problems onto other sectors of society. An instance of this is during the prime minister’s questions found that David Cameron could not give the answers to questions such as ‘who parents should turn to when they have concerns?’ He replied saying to complain to the headteacher, he was then asked, ‘what if the headteacher doesn’t help?’ and answered with Ofsted, but after this, he had no clear answers. This has been shown to be a reason for the decrease in voting or party membership and links to the rational choice theory- theory that views humans as acting to maximise their outcomes to try and achieve the most benefits from their actions. People are purposeful, maximising beings so will only vote if they believe in their party and trust the politicians, we are becoming reluctant voters (Dalton 2004; Hay 2007), which means that if they don’t trust the representatives, they would not bother or want to vote at all, another explanation of the rise of anti-politics; There are many reasons for the rise of anti-politics, however it may just be because there are new ways of engaging in politics, rather than fully rejecting it, such as joining a pressure group. (Micheletti 2003; Micheletti 2003) argues that society is moving from a lifestyle where politics would defend collective groups towards ”individualised collective action” whereby people essentially take matters into their own hands.
Pressure groups have been defined as ‘Private voluntary associations that wish to influence or control particular public policies, without becoming the government and controlling all public policy (Lynch,2007, p.245) . A famous and contemporary example of a pressure group is ‘Fathers for Justice’. They were formed in 2003 and focus on the alleged injustice on fathers regarding child custody and did this through protests dressed as well-known characters and stunts such as climbing a crane near Tower Bridge; this generated a lot of media attention which allowed for the coalition government to encourage ‘shared parenting’ and a ‘review of family law’ to look at how they can give rights to non-resident parents. This is a way of engaging in politics but not the traditional way.
It has become increasingly simple to engage in politics with actions like this and take situations into their own hands, which in my opinion has caused the further increase in the distance between a party member and a citizen due to the citizen doing the work and the politician just acting as the representative. However, there is no reason to believe that this a form of engaging in politics, which means that the idea of a ‘rise of anti-politics’ may be questioned as to whether there is a decrease in engagement in politics or just that we completely engage differently, so there is not really a rise of anti-politics. This is what British Political Scientist, Colin Hay argues that we, as active citizens use different methods to participate in pro-politics such as. Statistics have shown that over 36% of the population have signed petitions, 18% boycotted items for political reasons and over 16% have directly presented their own views to a local MP or councillor. This is a prime example of how we can engage in politics without having a party membership etc, it should be considered as part of a rise in ‘pro-politics’, rather than interpreting statistics on turnout and membership as a rise of anti – politics in Britain. Nevertheless, this form of engaging in politics has sometimes been criticised for causing a threat to the normal representative democracy and being quite inegalitarian, supporting certain causes rather than others.
However, maybe political scientists should consider this a way of engaging democratically along with ‘traditional’ forms of engagement. The rise of anti- politics has been explained thoroughly by many different sociologists and authors who all use the crisis of representative democracy as their research point by looking at different statistics of turnout and membership. We have seen many reasons for this rise, from negative attitudes towards the performances of certain politicians to not relating and becoming apathetic towards politics now, more than before.
However, this has been challenged by many authors, such as Colin Hay, who argues that we just engage in politics differently currently. There are now hundreds of different forms of democratic engagement, which I believe should be taken into consideration before coming to the conclusion of a ‘rise of anti-politics in the UK’. Now that it has become simpler to engage, politicians and Westminster may consider actions such as petitions when creating legislations, or even creating a referendum on a particular issue. The reasons for the rise of anti-politics have been widely spread and spoken about and it is a hope of mine that politicians consider these and try to make more people involved in politics by getting rid of the negative attitudes towards themselves, identifying with citizens etc, creating a rise in ‘pro-politics’.