The Ipsos Mori poll published last week showed a perhaps surprising amount of simple ignorance amongst the British Public. In major areas of public policy, it seems that large numbers of people do not have even a most basic understanding of the data behind the issues of the day. Alex Massie in the Spectator put forward the idea that this ignorance is why some kind of political class is necessary. Robert Sharp at Liberal Conspiracy rebutted this, making the fairly valid point that the ignorance on display can in fact be blamed on media failures as much as educational or political ones. The Liberator Blog, rightly points out that the ignorance of the Public does not let politicians off the hook.
So where does this shocking display of political ignorance leave us?
Aside from the structural failures of education, I think it clearly does underline the spectacular failure of the British media to either inform or educate- and the failure of the British public to ask the right questions, but it also opens up a whole raft of issues to do with our democracy too.
At the moment the issue of MP's pay is a political hot potato and there have been a variety of proposals- including Richard Branson's idea that MPs pay should be improved substantially, but that the numbers of MPs should be reduced. As an aside I note that most national journalists earn a fair bit more than a backbench MP does, but they have been more than happy to pander to the visceral witch hunt response that MPs should not really earn anything at all. Of course one major source of added income for MPs is journalism, and several significant political figures earn large sums to top up their Parliamentary pay. All of this does rather get in the way of a sensible debate about what the role of MPs really is- or should be- and yet this role lies at the heart of our democracy.
As a Liberal, I share the view that the mistakes of economic and public policy that have been made since the Second World War have their roots in the very fabric of our constitution. In the eyes of most Liberals the closed shop of British politics has prevented new ideas and necessary change from entering the system, and unless and until greater competition forces change upon the system, then the British government will continue to grow ever more sclerotic. The failure of both journalism and politics to explain even basic facts to the electorate does not make me optimistic that such radical change can be made attractive, however necessary it is. Even still, I think it is incumbent upon Liberals of all persuasions to stand up and speak for ideas which may not merely be unpopular, they may not be even understood.
I shall continue to speak up for radical reform, and just hope that the public ignorance on this and, as it turns out, on so many other issues can finally be defeated.