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Two Times articles today reveal a lot about the challenges that modern politics currently faces. The first is an account of the practical problems of targeting people living in gated communities; the second records that the Tories last year spent £400,000 on mailshots to pensioners but just £50,000 on mailshots to young urban professionals (I’m not singling out the Tories here, who spent more on direct mail last year than the Lib Dems spent on their whole campaign; in fact I’d be amazed if the Lib Dems spent any money at all on targeting yuppies).

Social trends towards fortressing homes is doing more to fragment British society than mass immigration ever could. And it isn’t just about preventing canvassers and leafleters from getting to you; the Telephone Preference Service means that tens of thousands of electors are now not contactable via the phone (and however much parties may abuse this, they still respect it more than businesses). In the constituency I helped in during the last election, the Tories even tried claiming that the Mail Preference Service applied to us – but not them of course – even though it is a voluntary scheme.

The public is doing all it can to shield itself from politicians, and then subsequently adopts a wildly inaccurate picture of politicians that cannot be challenged. This quote is telling:

“I don’t watch the news, listen to party political broadcasts or read flyers so it is about getting the message across to me.”

The question is how? How do you inform someone who doesn’t want to be informed and has the tools at his/her disposal to avoid your messages? I’m afraid I don’t have any confidence in the great internet having the answer here for the simple fact that people only visit the websites they want to visit.

The problem is wider than just politicians’ relations with the public however. Last night’s Dispatches – woefully misrepresented on its website – pointed out how much of the problem we have with anti-social behaviour is rooted in mass hysteria that greatly exaggerates the true scale of the problem. In the past, a kid mouthing off would get a clip round the ear; now we expect the police or social services to sort it out for us on demand. If you do give a kid a clip round the ear, you are likely to get an ASBO yourself.

The real problem is that our society has fragmented. It isn’t wicked politicians, or poor public services, or mass immigration and multiculturalism that’s to blame; it’s the fact that we choose to live in silos. I’d like to think that there are enough good reasons to get us to reverse this trend at some point in the near future; if that doesn’t happen I really don’t see a long term positive outcome.

6 thoughts on “Siloisation

  1. The thing you’re missing about the internet is the network effect – one doesn’t have to have personally visited a website in order to be aware of it or (more importantly) the ideas it is spreading. For instance, my boyfriend’s mother never goes online, but she knew all about Boris Johnson’s blog because she heard about it from a friend who saw a reference to it in a newspaper. The waves of influence that work online – I’m sure you, like me, are aware of many blogs or websites you’ve never actually been bothered enough to visit – also apply offline.

    But, you know, I’m all for the failure of party politics and happy for people to choose to live in silos if they so desire, so your post kind of cheered me up!

  2. You can’t have it both ways Jackie – word of mouth is worthless is people’s social networks are getting smaller and smaller.

    If people want to live in silos, that’s fine. But it seems to go hand in hand with increasing levels of depression, fear and isolation.

  3. But James, I don’t see any evidence at all that peoples’ social networks are getting smaller and smaller. Indeed, if anything people are having more difficulty than ever before juggling their increasingly vast collection of friends/friendly acquaintances/associates. Just because they don’t live next door to those people, it doesn’t mean they don’t know them.

  4. I could sit here and try to defend/clarify this post, but the truth is it is a perfect example of the sort of thing I write before having any lunch. Blood sugar levels and all that. I’ll try to come up with a more nuanced take on the same theme when I’m less snowed under.

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