Congratulations to Jude Todd-Warmoth (Upper Sixth), who has been shortlisted by the Political Studies Association for the Student Blog Competition 2020.

The competition, which is held in partnership with the Financial Times and supported by UK Parliament, challenged students aged 16-19 to answer ‘Does the Public expect too much of UK Politicians’ in a blog-style article of approximately 600 words.

198 submissions were received and the PSA has shortlisted the top 20 entries, chosen for their creativity, structure, integrity and levels of critical analysis. The judging team consisted of Michelle Doyle Wildman (CEO of the Political Studies Association), George Parker (Financial Times Political Editor) and a representative from the UK Parliament Education Team. It is hoped that an awards ceremony will be hosted in early September for shortlisted students and guests, subject to the guidance on public gatherings due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Read Jude’s entry below.

Does the public expect too much from UK politicians?

Jude Todd-Warmoth

As a representative democracy, we trust our elected representatives to make decisions on our behalf. Politicians are our voice in society, the medium for the expression of democracy. However, pressure to perpetually meet unrealistic demands undermines their capacity to deliver meaningful change and better society.

Mass media is unequivocally the most instrumental force of governmental scrutiny, dissecting and communicating the every move of our politicians, thereby feeding excessive public expectations. This is especially salient in the age of the internet, with political news immediately accessible at the end of our fingers. The media is a potent force in today’s political climate, symbolised by the remarkable fact that The Sun, the most widely read British newspaper, hasn’t endorsed a losing party since 1979. It determines the way the public perceive both politicians and political parties. For example, public perceptions of Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn prior to the 2019 election were hugely impacted by their portrayals in the media, the former being fawned over and latter downright vilified.

Undoubtedly, the media has an important and positive role in holding the government to account, as evidenced by the way it exposed the 2009 parliamentary expenses scandal. One thing the public has every right to expect of our politicians is that they’re incorruptible. We correctly expect the same fulfilment of duty from politicians as we do from our doctors, teachers and similar professions of trust.

Despite this, politicians in our country are shackled by the constant threat of negative media coverage in tabloid newspapers. Incessant hostile attacks on the government delegitimises its authority in the eyes of the public, thus creating an atmosphere rife with discontent and anger at the failure to meet unrealistic expectations. This promotes populist politics and disincentivises politicians from making the ‘correct but unpopular’ decisions, resulting in the politicians prioritising the interests of the party over those of the nation.

Media pressure also compels politicians to make promises on which they simply cannot deliver, undermining public trust when they are then unable to fulfil these promises. We should promote coverage that champions discussion rather than issues blind criticisms because, unless we alter the relationship between the media and politics, politicians will continue to over-promise and under-deliver.

The aggressive nature of our media too often makes politicians reluctant to admit mistakes for fear of a damning media response. This creates a superficial political atmosphere whereby politicians are persistently presenting facades rather than honesty; and without admitting to mistakes, we cannot correct them.

Public respect for our leaders has gradually but consistently eroded away. There is no doubt that politicians are, to some extent, to blame for this erosion of trust. Many politicians have demonstrated the propensity to blatantly lie for political gain – take the infamous Brexit bus for example.

However, the continuation of an environment that feeds off cheap shots on politicians will only serve to marginalise politics from the public, creating a dangerous disconnect that has the capacity to undermine our democracy. As citizens, it’s time we showed more respect for the politicians who dedicate their entire lives to public service. Being a politician is not a job but a vocation, with their every political and private action under continual intense scrutiny. For them, it is certainly the case that ‘the private is political’.

In short, we expect our politicians to drill for oil while painting the ocean green, feed the fish while fighting the sharks, sail in their own direction while following the party boat — and all of this whilst living in a goldfish bowl.