Saturday, 9 June 2018

For all the (mostly self-appointed) Brexit experts - no-one's listening

People aren't listening to politicians. Or for that matter to newspaper columnists, BBC political reporters, think tank intellectuals, campaigners, and activist university professors. Twitter may be filled with the wit and wisdom of our political debate but nineteen out of twenty people are looking somewhere else. And when we get all huffy and tell them they're stupid for not paying attention they look back at us and tell us - rightly - that we're boring and they're not interested.

I've never watched Love Island but it's hard to avoid it as, on its start, social media explodes with comment, caricature and judgemental tutting. The current crop of attractive but slightly vacuous women on the show had a conversation (more a couple of comments really) about Brexit that has given political Twitter palpitations - from right across the spectrum of opinion this slightly gormless interaction is used to show that the sort of person who goes on Love Island is thick and, for some, that these are the sort of people who voted to leave. It is a veritable festival of snobbery and "OMG how could anyone know so little about Brexit" commentary.

For me it's a reminder that, for most people Brexit is a bit of a sideshow and they really don't see how the different options for leaving, not leaving, half leaving or leaving later are going to make much difference to their lives. We might be fretting over hard or soft, poached or scrambled Brexit, pouring over the latest Westminster bubble gossip, hanging on the words of our favourite pundit, posting coruscating Tweets exposing the idiocy of ministers, but the rest of humanity - normal people - would rather talk about things that matter in their actual lives right now (jobs, love life, football, paying the mortgage, schools and where they'll buy underwear when the local M&S closes).

It's not that people don't think Brexit is important - all the important people have been telling them every day just how really really important Brexit is, after all - but rather that folk can hold that something is important without thinking that spending time fidgeting over the details is a good use of that time. Does anyone think that me knowing the difference between the EEA/EFTA option, the Swiss solution, customs unions and intelligent borders is going to change much about the manner in which the decision is made? So why should I fuss and worry about these details when there are things I can influence, can change and which are directly relevant to my life right now.

It's not a revelation that people aren't paying attention to politics - pollsters have been telling us this for ages - but rather a realisation that politicians and political pundits aren't paying attention either. We carry on deluding ourselves that the great British public (or indeed American, Australian or French public) care about our political obsessions when the truth is that these things whoosh by them like so much white noise. I consider this to be a good thing - politics in a liberal democracy should be less important - but I suspect that the folk inside the bubble or with their noses pressed against that bubble begging for entry will carry on believing they're so much better because they 'understand'. Not like those girls in the Love Island sunshine. Me, I've a feeling those girls have it about right and, whatever, no-one is listening because they've more important things to worry about.


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