What is politics?
What is politics?

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What is politics?

1.3 Politics: a view from the street

As you saw in Activity 2, politics permeates and affects our entire lives – often without us realising just how much of our daily routine is in one way or another affected by politics and informed by political decisions. Yet the importance of politics to everyday life, and the degree to which many of our daily activities are ‘political’, is not always recognised. In fact, for many people, politics still seems like the domain of professionals (such as politicians and political analysts).

This short video, ‘Politics: a view from the street’, introduces you to people’s views on politics.

Download this video clip.Video player: Politics: a view from the street
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Transcript: Politics: a view from the street

Which words summarise politics?

Man
Betrayal, mistrust, let downs. That’s not the answer you wanted, is it?
Woman
Corruption, lies, red tape, bureaucracy.
Man
Trust would have to be right up there at the top, because there’s been an awful lot that’s happened recently, which people seem to have been turned off trusting any politicians.
Woman
Governance, leadership, and local politics as well.
Woman
Government.
Man
Chaps going on the television at night arguing.
Woman
Corruption. What else? Disinterest in the local people, and we have no access.
Man
Well, yeah, for me, it’s about campaigning. It’s about representation of people and of individuals and about communities.
Woman
It’s not something that I really kind of like to discuss too much. I think, when it comes to politics, a lot of stuff gets said, but nothing really gets done. And when it does come on the telly, I kind of just switch off, to be honest, because I just feel like the world is going round in circles, and we end up in the same place as we were. So we are.
Man
To my mind, lying is the first thing. Not true to what they say. And what else can we say? They are very polished in what they say, because they’ve been to the best schools.
Woman
Just a lot of people fighting for power. That’s all I think it is.
Man
Not very interesting. I’d have to go for the same answer three times.
Man
Politics, I would think it’s a lot of lies behind it. There’s a lot of people giving fake promises and saying they’re going to do something, but in reality it doesn’t really happen. That’s it really in a nutshell.
Woman
Democratic, biased, and probably not trustworthy?
Interviewer
What three words come to mind?
Man
I can’t repeat them.

Is politics important?

Man
It’s vital. It’s the way that our country’s ruled. It’s how we’re run. How can you put laws into place? How can you govern and police if you don’t have politicians? They’re a necessary evil.
Woman
It is important, but politics has become a game, hasn’t it?
Man
It’s important because politics, it’s every part of everybody’s life from the cradle to the grave, from public sector workers’ pay to children going to school. And the decisions that politicians make regards the education sector, and the NHS as well. It’s important in everybody’s life.
Woman
I don’t know.
Woman
I don’t know. [Inaudible]
Woman
Yes, I think it is.
Woman
Yes [Inaudible].
Interviewer
Tell us why.
Woman
Because the government decides about what money goes to certain places. I don’t know, really.
Man
Well, of course politics is important, but there’s got to be an element of nearer transparency than anything else, I think. Even if it isn’t transparent, it’s got to be quite close to it.
Interviewer
Is politics important?
Woman
Yes.
Woman
Yes.
Woman
Yes, very.
Man
Vastly, yes.
Woman
Oh, yes. My goodness, yes.
Man
Vastly, yes. Guarantees free speech – up to a point.
Woman
I think it’s important, but I don’t think you actually get taught an awful lot about politics at school and things like that. You either pick it up from experience with parents and things like that. So I think you’re naturally biased one way or the other, rather than in a position to make decisions for yourself.
Interviewer
Do you think politics is important?
Man
Yes, of course. From the times of the Romans. But I suppose we don’t dislike politics. We don’t like the politicians.
Man
There’s so much deceit and dishonesty in politics now, and I think people are very cynical about the whole business really. And I don’t think there’s the honesty and integrity that there used to be in politics.

Are you involved in politics?

Woman
No.
Interviewer
Why not?
Woman
Because beyond voting, I try to pay attention to what they all think. But beyond voting, I don’t.
Man
No.
Woman
No. Only as far as voting goes. We always vote.
Man
Getting a bit old for that, I think.
Man
No. Unfortunately, no. But this is something that, in fact, I try to avoid as much as I can, and I’m not feeling very proud of that.
Woman
Yes, very much so.
Interviewer
Would you explain?
Woman
I’m a regional secretary for Unite the Union. I’m a member of the Labour Party, and I’ve been active all my working life.
Man
My involvement in politics is purely as a voter. I’m not actively involved.
Woman
Only out of interest. Not involved, I wouldn’t say. I’d say interested and follow, but not actively involved.
Woman
No, not directly involved, but interested. And we’ll watch most political programmes and discussions.
Man
I’m a regional political office for a trade union. So yes, definitely. My life is surrounded by politics and the things that we do for other people.
Woman
Not really, no. I really don’t get myself involved in politics at all. Kind of stay away from there, because I just get frustrated because of the reason where we are always saying that we’re going to do this, and we’re going to do that. And then, at the end of the day, we are where we were, so a little bit pointless.
Man
No, I don’t. I don’t, no. I’m an outsider.
Interviewer
Do you consider yourself to be involved in politics?
Woman
No.
Woman
No.
Woman
No.

How does politics affect your everyday life?

Man
Through local government legislations, through council tax, through when there’s problems with the bins and strikes, through what people set for taxation. So it affects every aspect of your life – how much things cost, your travel, your health care. So it’s across the board. It affects everything.
Woman
It’s in your day-to-day life, isn’t it? But you kind of don’t notice it, but it’s everything from your bin being collected to the fact that someone runs the market. And so it’s sort of day-to-day life, really. But then, yes, I do sort of feel I only kind of make my point heard once every four years, whenever it is that I’m called upon to vote for someone, really.
Woman
Does it impact on me personally? Yes, it does in fact, how taxes go and the decisions that are made in the local area – building developments and things like that. But I don’t personally get involved in it. So I don’t really... I just let it wash over me.
Woman
Policy affects all our lives in every aspect, every way.
Woman
It worries me about how the impact on daily lives because I often feel that people are making decisions on our behalf that I don’t necessarily agree with.
Woman
Or have been consulted on.
Woman
Or been consulted on. So it’s kind of like, you wonder if you’re a little bit of a puppet sometimes, and strings are being pulled by other people in power. And you perhaps should have a voice, but have you got a loud enough voice?
End transcript: Politics: a view from the street
Politics: a view from the street
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Activity 3

Timing: About 40 minutes

Watch the video, and as you do so, think about some of the recurring answers, and the similarities and differences, in the views expressed. Then, in the boxes below, try jotting down some responses to the following questions.

1. What are the most common associations the people in ‘Politics: a view from the street’ make with politics? Why do you think this is the case?

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Discussion

Unfortunately, most people in the video seemed to view politics in a rather negative light. The words ‘corruption’, ‘mistrust’ and ‘lies’ came up quite often. On a more positive note, some people associated politics with representation, governance, leadership and community. Yet on the whole, the perception of politics struck us as rather negative. There are a lot of reasons why this might be the case, some of which were alluded to by the interviewees. These include:

  • frustration that promises made by politicians are rarely kept
  • frustration at the fact that the political world seems to comprise a lot of talk (and red tape) and very little concrete action
  • the feeling that the world of politics (and politicians) is very far removed from, and often inaccessible to, ordinary people.

Most of those interviewed also seemed to associate politics closely with politicians, which might be another reason for a generally negative perception of politics. As you progress through the course, you will see that politics is about much more than politicians – therefore the negative perception many of us have of politicians should not automatically lead to a negative perception of politics.

Although not mentioned in ‘Politics: a view from the street’, the media might also contribute to the generally negative perception of politics – after all, the news we watch and the newspapers we read are full of stories about corruption, lying and scandal. As ‘scandal sells’, people’s negative perceptions of politics are often confirmed or reinforced by the media.

2. Do most of those interviewed think politics is important? How do they feel it impacts on their day-to-day lives?

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Discussion

Everyone interviewed thought that politics is of vital importance and that it affects almost all aspects of their lives – ‘from the cradle to the grave’, as one of the interviewees says. Through policy, politics determines and regulates everything, from the way our rubbish is collected to how much things cost at the supermarket to the cost and quality of education and health care.

3. To what extent were most of those interviewed involved in politics? What were the reasons given for those not involved in politics?

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Discussion

Although everyone interviewed thought that politics is of crucial importance and has a very tangible effect on their day-to-day lives, only a few people considered themselves to be actively politically involved – as trade union members and representatives, or as members of political parties. Many saw their political involvement as passive rather than active; they voted when called upon to vote, but did not get involved beyond that. Some made the conscious choice to ‘stay away from politics’ entirely, expressing frustration at their lack of power to effect change and indicating cynicism towards politicians.

Interestingly, most of those who were not involved were not apathetic, indifferent to or uninterested in the world of politics; their lack of involvement seemed to originate not in apathy but in frustration and disappointment with politicians. As one of the interviewees points out, ‘We don’t dislike politics, we dislike politicians’. Once again, the close association between politics and politicians seems quite strong. As you progress on this course, you will see that there is a lot more to politics than politicians. And, as you will also see, particularly when you listen to Milton Keynes South MP Iain Stewart (as of May 2015) in ‘Perspectives on politics’, there is a lot more to politicians than what is portrayed in the media.

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