Saturday, January 08, 2011

on democratic participation and work hours


How many times have you heard people say, when confronted with a political position, something along the lines of "oh I don't have time to follow politics"? We must all have heard some similar excuse and I, like many of you, have often put this down to willful ignorance, laziness or some other dysfunction. On reflection, however, I appreciate that politics is fiendishly complicated, not least because of the inordinate amount of proganda and misinformation propagated by the media. The situation is made worse in countries such as the UK, that have unreformed and near-mediaeval constitutional arrangements.

I will happily spend several hours a day reading links from twitter and other sources to keep up to date on developments that personally interest me. Although I consider myself well-educated I still can't offer any truly informed opinion on issues such as health and safety policy, social care, the health service and other issues that I'm just not that excited about. And so I'd like to contrast my position with what must be a significant minority of the electorate of the UK who don't possess the means to access virtually any reasonably objective sources of information about our democracy. These people still spend a considerable fraction of their waking hours at work or occupied in some other useful activity such as caregiving.

Citizens not having time in their lives to acquire sufficient knowledge to engage in constructive politics is a glaring symptom that our economic culture is depriving people of the opportunity to participate in our democracy. For our democracy to function these people need the personal time to allocate to such activity, the information technology to access them and the langauge and comprehension skills to understand them. 

To emphasise this point, let me present a contrasting example of the electorate to my first one. Instead of Mrs Caregiver, lets look at Mr Accountant. Mr Accountant works 70 hour weeks for a big firm in the city. In this capacity he might well be an expert in accountancy law and policies affecting it but he lacks any broader understanding of politics. He has no incentive to gain one, either, because his six figure income allows him to afford a lifestyle remote from the majority and unaffected by such piddling social issues as unemployment, healthcare, environmental or foreign policy. This man has no greater incentive to engage in enlightened politics than Mrs Caregiver.


  1. OMG I'm agreeing with you, and I even begining to think you're a nice person - time to shoot myself.


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