Listening and Politics
The law of listening and politics
Might there be a Newton-like law of listening and politics, asks Peter Hudson?
The benefits arising from politics are directly proportional to the amount of listening within any given political system.
There’s a lot going on in politics at the moment in the English speaking world. In the USA there’s the Presidential Election, and at the time of writing it’s the primaries. In the UK it’s the build up to the In/Out vote for Europe and the campaign for the elections for local authorities. But politics is about so much more than elections.
Indeed, there are plenty of places where elections play little or no part in politics. So how can we talk about listening in politics when politics itself is all so complex? Let’s at least try and keep it simple and stick to politics in democracies!
Firstly, a few common assumptions and questions. Politicians are elected to represent people so can they do that if they don’t know what the people want, if they don’t listen to them? Obvious isn’t it! A perhaps more common, if more cynical, assumption is that politicians do anything but listen as they are too busy trying to convince the electorate of what they want for them.
Kate Lacey, a professor at the University of Sussex asserts: Listening is central to modern communication, politics and experience, but is commonly overlooked and underestimated in a culture fascinated by the spectacle and the politics of voice .
Vital but rare
If we accept, for the sake of argument, that listening is vital but rare in politics, what can be done to improve it? At times, frankly, I’m not at all sure anything can be done as so much more is at stake for politicians, or at least they think there is.
In the current dispute in the UK between the junior doctors and the Health Secretary, Mr Hunt for example, the said Health Secretary has said to the doctors, and I paraphrase: I’ll listen to you on anything except the thing you are striking about. Is that really about listening or is about something else completely?
In the UK we have just been privileged, yes I know that’s a subjective remark, to have President Obama visit and talk with various groups. He wasn’t, of course, here to listen but you couldn’t help thinking that if he had been he would have! The Presidential election clearly shows, however, that listening is not what political elections are about at all.
The latest I’ve seen is that someone from a different camp has complained to Facebook that Senator Saunders’ posts are pornographic with the result, temporarily at least, that Facebook took them down. It’s not a great stretch of the imagination to think that whoever did that doesn’t want the citizen voters to listen to what their politicians are saying to them.
So the law of politics and listening seems to be more:
The lower the listening quotient in any given political system the more that politicians thrive.
If you think I’m unduly cynical try and sketch an outline for a lesson for teenagers on how to increase listening in politics and I’m sure the Editors of ITM will publish the results!
 Kate Lacey: Listening Publics: The Politics and Experience of Listening in the Media Age; Polity, Cambridge.