The Lib Dems may indeed now be within striking distance of power. It doesn’t make me in the least happy – but I am interested in investigating the wider reasons. Perhaps this is all the result of a sociological perfect storm – a coming together of a number of different factors that have been out there just waiting to ambush us.
- we’re a highly educated populace, suddenly empowered in so many ways:
- we’ve all been taught by astonishingly cheap corporate technologies and a wider belief in a consumer materialism to demand instant and unequivocal gratification
- we’ve all been taught by an overarching and comprehensive system of government targets to expect a neverending production-line like sequencing of improvements in our public sector services
- free – or essentially free – communication infrastructures like the Internet have not only brought PCs to most households but have stretched what they can usefully mean in relation to each other: no longer do we see these machines as devices to battle with in the painful privacy of our own homes but – rather – as communicating windows onto a world we can travel round at the click of a button
- meanwhile, the comely mobile phone – in a creeping and curious way (offspring as it originally was of Alexander Bell’s century-old invention) – has encouraged almost everyone in the country, whether technophobe or not, to acquire a palm-held computer and use it for a fraction of what they cost only a decade ago
- we’re a highly educated populace with long memories:
- some of us seriously suffered under a government led by Margaret Thatcher
- others felt most aggrieved by Blair’s achievements
- all of us felt – in some way or another – that politics was a closed book run by those in the know, very much on behalf of those who generally only chose to participate every four or five years
- meanwhile, social media, exploding as they have over the past two years into the daily communication habits of millions of Britons, tell a very different story – no one does anything on behalf of a social media fiend, and where they do try, they may do so at their most serious and public peril
All these factors lead us to one simple conclusion: and yes, Ed, indeed it is true -we have lived in a country where politically speaking coalition, cooperation and living with one’s slightly off-beam neighbours (what ordinary people have to do every day of their working-weeks, incidentally) are unusual activities and essentially frowned upon. But social media is all about cooperation and getting to know the off-beam – that is to say, about treasuring and sharing difference: sharing that eccentricity through the magic of electricity.
Coalition politics may, in fact, be the paradigm of the social media era. We might find out that hung parliaments may be to governance what Facebook, Twitter and blogging are to communication. A little ragged, a little imperfect, a little eccentric, a little crude – a little overwhelming and occasionally rude at first, in fact: but, in the end, a game with ground rules just like any other.
The key to all of this is to recognise that game.
The key to all of this is to recognise that the game which really changed during last week’s TV debate between the three leaders of our main political parties is not the one the parties play with each other. No. The game which really changed last week is the one that all politicians play with their voters.
And what it now means is that the voters, softened up by years of empowerment in other areas of their lives, now demand the same from their relationship with their political representatives.
What it now means is that the voters are now on top.
That’s the perfect storm we’re currently enjoying.
Or not, as the case may be.