Democracy for the on-demand generation

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I read somewhere that 40% of people ask to move tables when they are seated in restaurants. This shocked me at the time because when I queue up waiting I am completely oblivious to the seating arrangements and to most other things actually.

Since then though I’ve noticed people in the queue ahead of me discussing the seat they would like. Maybe by the window, away from the toilet or perhaps in a booth all to themselves. It makes perfect sense and now I feel crazy for putting up with the worst table all this time.

It’s an amazing world, you can get a book you’ve never heard of delivered direct to your iPad in seconds, learn about anything you want at the click of a button. You can see pictures of war torn Syria in next to real time through Twitter and learn the news quicker than a website can be updated. You can watch whatever film you want immediately, skip over adverts, record entire series without being present for any of it.

The end of compromise

In all areas of life, one can now extract what is unpleasant and just focus on what you want. You can have TV without adverts, books without the bookstore and news without the delay. So why do you have to compromise when it comes to democracy?

The short answer is that increasingly, you don’t have to – or you don’t think you have to.

Voting for a party hoping to achieve 30-40% is by definition a vote of compromise. You may agree with some of what one party is promising but undeniably there are things you don’t like and will have to deal with should they win. You may like the Tories tough stance on benefits but be very much against the proposed cuts to departmental spending. Ed Miliband might be attractive but you want an EU vote.

Tough, that’s politics. Or is it?

The main parties in the UK can’t dedicate their time to positioning themselves without constraints. They have to protect their base, maintain a narrative and ensure they’re not seen to be going against what they thought was a good idea 10 years ago. This is not the case for smaller parties.

For Ukip, the market is open. They have struck on a narrative that doesn’t require specifics. If you are a native UK resident (whatever that means) they are on your side. If you are from the “other” group, they aren’t. Fortunately, non-UK citizens tend not to vote. Ukip have changed their mind on the NHS, on tax and many other areas of policy. It doesn’t matter because they’re new, they’re allowed to change their mind.

The same applies for the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru. Each of these new options plugs a hole in the voter market.

The public is an enormous plethora of views, opinions and needs. Millions of pensioners, parents, young professionals and manual labourers all with different requirements of government. In the past these groups were willing to compromise on some of their needs when voting for a major party to ensure they protected their major interests. Today however, as with restaurant seating, compromise is on the way out.

The argument most often used when trying to persuade people not to choose splinter parties is that their vote will be wasted – the old “vote for what you want, get what you hate” argument. This doesn’t work for the public any more. We’re used to getting exactly what we want, and this is true for one group of voters more than any other – the young.

Politics of “Generation Y”

A great deal of research has been conducted into the voting intentions of the so called Millennials or Generation Y.  Generation Y – those born in the late 1980’s and early 90’s – have grown up with the technology to enable them to make choices that erode the need for compromise.

Although generally fiscally conservative and socially liberal, they are a cohort of contradictions. When treated well they are very loyal, yet they are the least trusting generation of others. Despite emerging from a university with the largest debt and worst job prospects in a generation they are more optimistic about their earning potential in the future.

Some things though are clear. They’ve grown up with nothing but Thatcherism and agree with its major tenets. Central to this is the belief that one is responsible for one’s own life. More than half of 18-34 year olds believe being unemployed is down to being “lazy” rather than unlucky and only one in five now believe the welfare state to be a good thing.

Crucially, they believe in themselves and that they know how to run their own lives. When you can design your own trainers and get pretty much anything as you want it when you want it, the idea of the state intervening in “your interest” seems ridiculous.

Where will it end?

So it seems certain that the customisation of politics to suit one’s own outlook and needs will continue to follow today’s trajectory. It’s clear that people will continue to challenge politics to deliver for them and reject the compromise that is needed in order to maintain a two party system.

In 2010, the coalition was an exotic thing, a rarity not seen in British politics. The fracturing of the political landscape since means 2015 is likely to lead to another hung parliament. It remains to be seen whether the “vote good, get bad” argument from the main parties will stick, but it seems unlikely.

Ironically, the lack of compromise in the electorate will require increased multi-partisanship in Westminster. Coalition requires compromise but this will please no-one. If one has to get 40% of people’s votes they simply cannot meet the specific, personalised needs of every group of people. Going into coalition with other parties just decreases this likelihood still further.

Major parties have yet to figure this out, here or in the US where a solid two party system is under pressure also.

I don’t have the answers, only questions and more serious questions than that discussed here. If I want customised politics and a UK party can’t do it, why stay in the UK at all? Why should I compromise when I can move wherever I get what I want?

The direction of travel is very much towards fractured and individualistic politics. The notion of a party will soon be under threat. In fact even the idea of a nation is looking more and more outdated.

The higher up you go, the more compromise is needed and people don’t like to compromise, even about restaurant seating.

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