Nick Robinson creates some interesting analogies in his post of 8.30 this morning. Entitled the political marketplace he firstly links popularity with share value, so arguing that if Gordon Brown was a plc we would now be selling his shares and his value in the marketplace would be in free fall. He then moves on to suggest that the voters are buyers and sellers, and elections are a little like trading stock; is this an accurate reflection of the way the electors view democracy or is it a disservice to civic duty in Britain?
There are perhaps two issues here, one is the treatment of citizens as consumers by the parties and the media. While interesting and not for the consumption by the news audiences, Nick's metaphors seem to reflect observations that voters/citizens are passive, reactive and contributing to politics only through polling data and the ballot box. This can reinforce this behaviour and maintain audiences and reactors rather than participants. More importantly perhaps is the nature of democracy in Britain. While we can all say that participation is facilitated more than it ever was it reaches a small minority, few seem to be part of the new Web 2.0 democracy in reality. So the only chance to participate is a vote that may have little effect on the outcome and is unlikely to because at the local elections seats remain uncontested or so safe there is little point in making the effort.
But that does not make us consumers as consumers have choice. Perhaps what we are witnessing is not the rules of the marketplace filtering into politics but some of the attitudes, when there is no choice but two or three tarnished brands the product sector is ignored and alternative purchases are made: hence the shift from party politics to issue and cause based activism or transferring political ideologies to the consumer marketplace where we are seen to have power. When there is no perceiving benefit from participating, or from government actions, the voice of the dissatisfied consumer emerges: especially when high taxes do not equate to value for money. But there are citizens out there, it is not the case that we have a consumer society that wants individual benefits from market-oriented parties, they want that as well as the best politics for society (this is based on research findings); but they do not find that so become spectators of the political marketplace, where support goes up and down, but unsure who is setting the prices.