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Editor at ReformerMag, Writing on Governance, Institution, and Liberalism.

The language of politics

The “information age” has facilitated access for all to varied and current information. This access, it is argued, has the potential to help us eradicate ignorance, if we so will it on the individual level. And although it’s true that information is more varied and more accessible than ever, it is also true that our ability to be selective in the information we consume has progressed just as far.

The advent of social media, where 62% of adults get their information from, means we no longer get a more conventionally balanced intake of the 8 o’clock television news. We can be selective in who and what we want to listen to depending on our preferences. This might seem like a beneficial point; unfortunately it comes at the price of varied opinions, a healthy requirement that forces us to reconsider our own view points and develop a more comprehensive schema of the world around us.

Easy access to information also corresponds with a fall in the barriers to entry for competing sources. Major journalistic outlets can now be, and have been, easily undercut by new competition in a replicable environment cheaply promoted via social media. The mismatch between journalistic jobs and aspiring journalist/writers also means that the industry has been flooded by freely generated content, something new platforms have not shied away from. Those who have been able to secure a career in writing are now expected to pump out more content to keep up.

Platforms depending on free, readily available content, have also undercut the need for an editorial process leaving content largely unvetted and based on opinion, meaning information has shifted away from facts and research into a greater realm of emotional reciprocity.

The distant consequence

To accommodate for these changes and new mediums of communication, news outlets have also changed the way reporting is done. News is now compressed into sound bites, excerpts, quick videos, and the mass integration of opinion as filler for reporting as opposed to analysis and objective comparison. The results of which have been dramatic in the political realm.

Entertainment, it seems, is what this demand driven industry has come to want and suppliers are not shy to provide it. This has clearly negatively impacted political coverage, from the excessive coverage of Trump in the US, to the underreporting of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. Even the rise in Google searches on the EU after the Brexit referendum in the UK goes to show how inefficient traditional sources of information have become at driving informed decision making.

With this collapse in media, analysis and coverage of policies and their implications seem to have moved into a niche realm of think tanks and other non-governmental organizations. Mediums seldom accessed by anyone other than specialists. This means that their impact on decision making, in a democratic sense, remains minimal although they often point out policy implications they fail to make a generalizable link to the impact on day to day life.

Language barrier

The failures in political engagement cannot be entirely thrown on the media and engagement with voters and the general public remains the sole responsibility of political parties themselves. Although the media plays a big role in whether or not that happens, it remains one medium, and the ultimate responsibility for voter disenfranchisement falls on political discourse itself.

Here the biggest issue isn’t the portrayal of politicians in the media, but the language in which politian’s choose to present their issues. The spectrum seems to shift wildly from macro problems, such as the economy to very specific social issues, take for example transgender access to bathrooms in the US. Politicians seem to no longer focus on anything in between, or on tying any policy, for that matter, with day to day implications on the domestic direction as a whole.

Macro level political jargon such as talk on the economy, national debt, and others are easy to dismiss as elements that are out of control of the general public and indeed are tough to translate into day to day implications. What is it to the average citizen that the national budget in the UK on education has changed from 85.8 billion to 84.0 billion? Sure there’s a lot to be said on what it means on a theoretical level but how will a cut of 1.8 billion actually impact parents?

Of course it remains a lot easier to discuss the economy when it comes to issues of fiscal policy and tax, a direct cut to real wages is the easiest to translate into line of sight impact making them much easier impact points for politicians to discuss.

Social issues, on the other hand present the opposite challenge, they often speak to a segment of society many times alienating, or worse triggering reactionary stances from those not directly impacted. This is of course not to say that issues of gender equality, LGBTQ rights and others are not important. Social issues set the forefront of domestic culture and attitude and as such play a pivotal role in progress as a whole. However, the way in which these issues are discussed are often pigeonholed pitting members of society against each other making it out to be a win-lose trade off when in fact social issues don’t pose a threat to any member of society, gender equality does not come at the cost of “men’s rights”, and LGBTQ rights will never remove the ability of conservatives to be conservatives and hold their own belief and value systems. This is something those arguing for equal rights and social progress understand well. Yet it remains the role of politicians arguing for the widening of social rights to discuss these issues in an inclusive manner in order to effectively impact change, elsewise they will be doing nothing more than fuelling in group-out group dynamics on issues of national importance.

Back to basics

It’s safe to say that for all the connectives the information age has provided us, political discourse may have been the least to benefit, or even has suffered a loss at its hands. This definitely does not excuse political parties of their responsibility to engage with the public but means they need to invest more heavily in monitoring their approach and the mediums in which they seek to engage.

To begin with politicians need to be able to provide line of sight implications when discussing macro elements such as the economy or foreign intervention. This is definitely a challenge however the importance of these issues usually lays in the emotional connection that individuals have to them and thus, if a direct line of sight cannot be established, bringing in emotional and domestic level identity politics are always a way to rally people to a cause that politicians find just. It is the success of politicians in doing such things that have led to the rise of Trump and other right wing politicians in Europe and that is the ability to shift away from dry politics of numbers and policy and captivate an audience emotionally.

This translates significantly when it comes to overall language and engagement. It’s clear that parties cannot depend on sound bites to have their voices and their agenda properly heard. This means that parties and representatives need to have a succinct answer for the question “What do we stand for?” This very much means a return to ideological discourse and consistent and constant referral and communication of political manifestos including how they translate into clear definable policy. This is a far cry from the politics of today especially when it comes to opposition politics where simple refutations are no longer enough to mobilise a productive counter balance and a swing in votes.

When it comes to social issues, politicians need to be inclusive in their approach and identify specific policy solutions that tackle both demand and supply based forces that create our current constructs. For example recent bans to “body shaming” ads on London transport networks do stem the impact of negative advertising but do nothing to shift gender constructs being developed at a young age. Similarly, the gender pay gap has already been tackled through legislation, but women continue to suffer other forms of discrimination at work and female involvement in STEM subjects continues to be low. Tying social changes into policy, for example suggesting a fundamental overhaul in the education system, will ensure an inclusive approach that not only tackles social issues at their source, but will also engage all stakeholders as opposed to exclusively speak to certain groups.

Communication and language is a corner stone in political involvement, and it is only with significant changes to both the methods and mediums of engagement that politics can counteract the collapse in quality information presented by conventional media outputs which continue to provide demand driven entertainment. With these proposed changes political parties, especially those who seem to have fallen of the radar, can reengage a wider audience and be sure to impact focus driven change.

Originally published on jadesthinkpad.com on August 9, 2016.

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