Does a perceived distrust of politicians justify redistributing an image meme that was discredited 14 months ago?

Meme debatesThe image meme above went the rounds of social media in November 2014. It was roundly and conclusively fisked by Isabel Hardman on the Spectator Coffee House blog. I noticed that the meme was getting re-distributed a week ago. I pointed out to the people sharing this meme that it had been thoroughly discredited well over a year ago. Interestingly, several replied saying that “most people” think that’s how parliament behaves so it’s not a problem distributing it.

My indignation hit about twelve on the Richter scale.

In fact, I can do no better than repeat the conclusions of Isabel Hardman, a lobby journalist, who wrote:

I suspect that the lack of suspicion about what the graphics purport to show doesn’t just arise because MPs have let us down. It’s also because of a failure to read the internet critically…and a lack of knowledge about what Parliament does and how it works. These memes certainly aren’t doing any explaining, they are deceitfully spreading lies.

It is quite easy to end up writing about the problems with parliament and the failings of politicians. Our assumption tends to be that the problems with politics today lie solely in Westminster. But these memes show that mendacity is found outside SW1 as well as in it. If we must hold our politicians in revulsion – rather than recognising that they’re no more (or less) flawed than the rest of us – then we should at least also hold those who create these totally inaccurate graphics in even lower esteem.

I find it very lazy when people justify abuse of the facts by quoting “most people” or “many people”. It’s a sort of invocation of tyranny on behalf of a supposed large group of people.

Yes, politicians are hardly the most trusted group. But it does irritate me when some generalize about “politicians”. Politicians are just us. They are a reflection of us. In many cases they are extraordinary examples of tenacity and guile. But, by and large, they reflect the failings and strengths of the general public.

It is very misleading to generalize about MPs based on the expenses misadventures of a few, for example. Apart from anything else, a large number of the MPs who were publicized as having abused expenses are no longer in parliament. A fresh lot of MPs has come in.

But when I have seen MPs and politicians working behind the scenes (and in front of them sometimes) I generally see a picture of people who have a high boredom threshold and who are working very hard doing a very unglamorous job for little recognition. Long hours. Grinding travelling. Tedious casework. Low job security.

Yes, the pay is very good and I suppose there is kudos to the role.

But just repeating the “most people hate politicians” line and bolstering it with deceitful images is not going to get us anywhere in properly understanding how our democracy works. If you don’t like “politicians” then try getting elected yourself.

I would suggest having a gander at the Hansard Society’s 2015 Audit of Political Engagement. It shows a much more nuanced and encouraging picture of public attitudes to our democracy than is normally reported.

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