Our Cynicism

I think we had a reasonably good day at the Diocesan Synod last weekend. A large part of the day was given over to discussion about poverty, welfare reforms and the consequences of government policy.

The only thing that started to make me feel a little uncomfortable is something which has been getting to me in a number of gatherings recently – what feels like a disconnect between decent people and the political process.

I was co-facilitating the large group discussion on Saturday afternoon and was working pretty much to a script. I found some questions arising in me though that went neither asked nor answered.

I wanted to stop the discussion for a moment and ask, “How many people here feel they don’t trust politicians to make the right decisions?”

It isn’t possible to be certain but I suspect from what I was hearing discussed in other parts of the day, that it would be a quite a strong majority of the people there.

I’d have followed it up with a supplementary question, “How many of us have written to or contacted an MP or MSP in the last six months either about the topics under discussion or about anything else relating to government policy”.

Would as many hands have been raised?

All of which leads me to wonder whether the repeated scandals in our institutions seem so compelling to watch unfold because by watching them we feel that it all must be someone else’s fault. If the poor are hungry – it must be the fault of politicians. If I feel uncomfortable by the manner in which the media does its work it must be the fault of journalists. If the economy can’t look after our vulnerable it must be because of the bankers and not my low taxes.

I’m not saying that we should expect anything less than the highest standards in public life.

I am suspecting that in order to achieve them we need to be more than mere spectators.


  1. If I’d been present I’d’ve raised a first hand, but the second would’ve been out of date-range by a couple of years. But then, against all biological probability, I’d’ve raised a third and fourth hand.

    Sure there’s got to be interaction. However, I suggest it’s not about interact-or-spectate, it’s about the extremity and degree of interaction:

    We, the great unwashed, already do our bit by voting for candidates and parties in the first place, based on their promises being aligned to our desires.
    Then they ignore their manifestos and make a mess of the country.
    I’m not surprised people feel frustrated and apathetic; it’s entirely justified – when you can’t trust them at the first step of interaction, why bother taking it further?
    Some people feel strongly about certain causes and go make petitions en masse.

    Frustration, injustice and dissatisfaction are caused by lack of choice and premature-rounding-up errors: you get a say (rounded-up to the nearest ward and seat) every 4-5 years, during which period the government may start doing any number of things you disagree with and it’s only after their time’s up that you have any hope of rectifying matters, *if* there’s another party that claims to address the issues.

    (The above is independent of party, assuming a memory of 3 years or more.)

  2. Anne T says

    Last week I wrote to my Westminster MP about issues relating to the IF campaign. I received a letter back the next day. I was impressed, but yet did nothing. The experience of Synod and the general attitude to the political process which you describe propelled me into (re-)joining that party on Monday. (I have since been even more impressed by their ‘welcome and integration’ processes!)

  3. I agree wholeheartedly that we should be more than mere spectators but our power to intervene is hobbled by the inequalities of society. Paul Foot put this well in his book ‘The Vote’: “An industrial magnate has one vote, and so does each worker he can sack or impoverish. A millionaire landlord has one vote, and so does every person he evicts. A banker has one vote, so does every person impoverished by a rise in the bank rate or a financial takeover. A newspaper proprietor has one vote, so does each of the readers he deceives or seduces every day of the week. Are these people really equally represented? Or does not the mighty, unrepresentative economic power of the wealthy minority consistently and completely overwhelm the representative power of Parliament?”
    And since 2008 the line about bankers can include all the most vulnerable in society who are being crushed by a government of bankers’ cronies to pay for their reckless greed and short-term gambling. Perhaps it is not so much a case of our cynicism but of our awareness of what global, arrogant and greedy powers we are feebly pitted against.

  4. Rosie Bates says

    Good post. In our Gospel the spectators shouted ‘Crucify’ after they were all Hosannah’y – depends on the Manifesto and whether those who delivered it had ever understood it in the first place. Then it takes followers to read, mark and learn it and continue to update their understanding in situ. Clearly many Christians have been unable to engage with our given Manifesto and then either the ennui or picky engagement with or crucifixion of those commited to engagement with it follows. It takes constant tenacity to engage in a wholesome manner and the meek (humble) among us sometimes recognise that we failed to focus correctly at an opportune moment. This frequently seems to be a failure to listen intently and then ask the right questions, possibly as a result of over-riding personal agendas. However, when we reflect or someone like Kelvin prompts us to reflect honestly, this is good preparation for the next God given opportune moment. Leaders prompt and ‘meek’ disciples often turn out to be the most diligent.

  5. Justin Reynolds says

    A big part of the problem, I think, is that people are reluctant to join and engage with mainstream political parties which, discredited (rightly or wrongly) as they are, offer the only means of allowing us to get into positions of power from which we can actually introduce legislation that changes things. And part of the reason why people are sceptical about getting involved in party politics is a perception that it is dominated by a political caste who have been involved in politics pretty much full time since university, working as researchers then being fast streamed for selection. Also of course there’s the often unfair way in which politicians are often treated by the mass media.

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