There is a reason why we talk about the Westminster bubble; it is small, reasonably hermetic, claustrophobic at times, and most will agree it feels more separated from the real world than it should be.There is no real way to measure this, for obvious reasons: the bubble is not tangible, and even if it were, the people inside of it are never polled on what they think and what they care about, so it is impossible to state with absolute certainty that it is unrepresentative on all issues.
Still, it has recently felt like the gap is widening. A recent poll by Eurobarometer revealed that 62% of British people think that the EU has custom borders police checking goods crossing internal borders.This isn’t true, of course, and that majority would have been forgiven a few years ago for not paying much attention to regulation that doesn’t directly concern them. The problem, however, is that the question of customs has now been debated over and over and over, in parliament, on television, in newspapers and in the pubs of SW1.
It has clearly not had any real cut-through, but is one of the many, many topics which Westminster has been obsessed with for the past few years; just one polarising and vital topic in a constellation of polarising and vital topics.Meanwhile, a look at the most popular stories on Facebook in the 72 hours following the departure of seven MPs from Labour revealed that the first story on the launch of the Independent Group was 17th down the list. What people cared about at that point was Shamima Begum, the young woman who at this point was maybe or maybe not getting repatriated to Britain. They also cared about Malia Obama drinking wine while underage, and about an asteroid potentially hitting the earth.
It is not new for the general public to care less about politics than those who work in it, of course, but the contrast feels especially stark at the moment, as Westminster has been suffering from constant news overload.The Independent Group launch was a good example of this; though the move was earth-shattering and will be remembered in decades to come, regardless of whether they succeed in their new party or not, many anoraks struggled to feel as strongly about it as they should.Perhaps it was because they had been threatening to leave for a long time, but perhaps not; it is not the first time recently that a big news story has failed to blow the minds of Westminster denizens.
There is too much happening all the time, there has been too much happening for too long, and there has not been a period of quiet for as long as anybody can remember.It will be interesting to see if we look back on the years following the referendum as a manic blip, where a week’s news cycle happened in the bar of an eyelid, or if it marked the beginning of a new era of current affairs.If it is the former, we will hopefully look back kindly on ourselves, and realise that it was always going to be impossible for us to care about all of that mess. If not, we need to come up with a way of battling this chaos fatigue and figure out how to prioritise what we spend our time and energy on.
After all, it can’t be a surprise that people out in the country barely seem to care about what happens in SW1; it is confusing, never-ending, tiring and – luckily for them – their work doesn’t rely on following the minutiae of it all. Can anyone really blame them?