Is the divisiveness of politics a problem?
The word politician comes from the Greek word politikos, literally meaning regarding the state but has an implied meaning of someone who works for the good of the state. With this in mind, one would assume that politicians would work for the good of the state above all else, however in my opinion this is not always the case. This article is, of course, purely the personal opinion of the author based on my experiences. With this in mind this article will focus mainly on the adversarial nature of British politics with a few references to the USA also.
Being someone who voted conservative and living in an area dominated by labour supporters I have seen first-hand how adversarial the British political system can be. There has been numerous occasions where I have been the victim of verbal abuse for being a so called “Tory”. Indeed, the culture prevalent in British society today, especially at universities, is rather toxic, with people verbally abusing those who have different political opinions. By no means is this an issue merely within the left wing of British politics either, the word “cuck” (a derogatory term for left wingers) is thrown around a lot within political groups, one need only look at any comment thread on The Cabinet (a Facebook page devoted to political discussion) to see the animosity directed towards those of other political affiliations. Whilst not all people who engage in politics are intolerant towards those of other political affiliations, there is a worrying trend of this intolerance within the youth of today.
Of course, such combative views of politics are not reserved for the general public, but also dominate the politics of countries the world over. The frankly childish politics of popularity that marred the last US election is evidence of this. Rather than being a campaign based on the merits of each other’s arguments, the contest between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump was dominated by personal attacks and accusations from both sides. Indeed, such childish and slanderous attacks upon the opposition parties in politics seems common place. Jeremy Corbyn regularly receives insults and accusations of anti-Semitism due to his opposition to Israel and most sessions of Prime Minister’s questions are marred by personal insults. Behind this largely harmless and often satirical rivalry between politicians there lurks a darker aspect of rivalry. For example, John McDonnell’s vehement opposition to the conservative party. Indeed, he espouses a form of politics that vilifies anyone who does not support Labour. This polarised nature of politics surely detracts from parliament. Rather than working to further the interests of the country they serve, politics seems often more a practice of defeating the opposition. A perfect example of this is the various parties’ stances on Brexit. In particular, Jeremy Corbyn has been a Europhobe for a very long time. In 1975 he voted against joining the EEC, in 1993 he voted against the Maastricht treaty and in 2008 he voted against the Lisbon treaty. Yet when pushed to make a party stance on the issue of Brexit he chose to oppose it, curiously labour supporters largely supported Brexit, with 58% of the North East, traditionally a Labour heartland, voting for Brexit. It could be argued that Corbyn only opposed Brexit because the Tories supported it. This raises a potentially damning verdict on the nature of British politics. It suggests that parties tend to oppose anything proposed by the so called opposing parties, regardless of their own opinions or those of their constituents. This to me seems ludicrous and really highlights the fact that politics is less about ensuring the prosperity of a country and its people, and more about securing personal power for the various political parties.
Having laid out my argument as to the adversarial nature of politics, within the various parliaments and the general population, the question remains, could this ever change? This adversarial politics seems to have been common place within politics throughout history. In its earliest form, democracy was extremely adversarial, with slander being common place in ancient Athens and the instance of ostracism, the exiling of a political opponent, being common place. Indeed the 20th century was dominated first by the battle between fascism and communism and later supplemented by the ideological intolerance that shaped the Cold War. I personally do not see this widespread intolerance of political thought ever changing. As a university student I see our universities, places where one is encouraged to have an open and inquisitive mind about a plethora of subjects, as the breeding place for some of the vilest political opposition possible. Indeed, I was insulted and verbally abused for questioning the political activism of the Socialist society of the University.
My heart aches for a day where people interested and involved in politics can work together for the good of their respective nations, rather than to further their own political goals. However, at least in my opinion, this remains a pipe dream.