You know that thing that keeps happening when there are political issues we should be thinking about or political challenges that require dedication and time and resolution? You know that dominant media commentator voice that emerges. “All politicians are the same”, “Young people just switch off”, “no one is interested”.
Yeah you know that thing… The thing that never differentiates between politicians or defines what one politician says compared to another.
You might also know the other thing where the political representatives who clearly stand in favour of equality and human rights are forgotten in favour of anti-politics cliché and generalism. It happened last summer when somehow ALL politicians were branded as part of the structural racism problem.
Oh and flowing from that the next thing – “this place is a disaster”, “Stormont is a mess”. The thing that makes no difference between when governing is happening effectively or the areas of disagreement.
Last Christmas in advance of the Stormont House Agreement the airwaves were full of – “they will never agree”, “groundhog day”, and a general “what’s the point” commentary.
Well do you see all of that. I reckon all of that faux apathy is just as damaging as any political problem that exists in Stormont.
Firstly, it undermines public service and the value of political representation. It says that everyone – no matter who they are or what they represent – is doomed to be cast as self-serving, ineffective, greedy and unworthy. How long is it since anyone stood up for public service and its value? There are very few in Stormont who can say they work a 37 hour week or get their weekends with their families. I don’t agree with them all – but they all work incredible hours to serve their constituents. Public service is a vital and honour bound vocation that should be valued, not dimissed.
Secondly it says that politics is failing. The message that politics fails is a message we in a fragile transition can ill afford to present to our young people – or to any generation. We are the generation who must insist that politics works and be absolutely engaged when it may be struggling – not encouraging cynical disengagement or apathy.
Thirdly it discourages critical thinking. There is nothing more lazy, or indeed stupid than apathy. It may well suit vested interests to have a critically disengaged electorate – but it does not suit citizens’ interests.
The lazy convenient lies that all politicians are the same or that Stormont is a crock of (insert your own term) is one of the biggest threats to our peace agreement and to the welfare of our citizens. Whether you are convinced, annoyed or sceptical you need at least to be engaged, critical and thoughtful. There are a whole load of privileged people in secret places who depend on us being the opposite and who rely on the disengagement of apathetic constituencies.
The truth is that the current impasse is complex and multi-layered, agreement is hard to reach, politics is a long negotiation and compromise is difficult for all. But it sure beats the alternatives. And we all have a responsibility to engage.