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David Cameron science Dazed

Can science reinvigorate the election?

Examining the election through a new prism, here’s what politics might look like if Cameron and co. paid more attention in science class

The outcome of this election may be uncertain, but some alarming trends in planet politics are making themselves clear. The Tories want to make welfare cuts of £12 billion without saying who, exactly, they are going to screw over next. Nigel Farage’s repeated ‘health tourism’ outbursts are breaking Twitter’s outrage capacity, and the online privacy debate has been so thoroughly ignored it’s like the NSA scandal never happened.

Any first-time voters feeling angry and confused are probably justified. The tired political narratives emerging on the campaign trail need reimagining. Luckily, politicians aren’t the only ones who can offer you alternative perspectives. To add some colour, why not try examining our political spectrum through the prism of science?

Who would make the best coalition?

Mainstream parties are trying to avoid the inevitable. By asserting that the question we should be asking is, “Who would make the best PM?”, Camp Cameron is hoping Miliband’s sub-par public image will leave the Tories on top. Meanwhile, Miliband is batting off the SNP in Scotland by stressing Labour are the only dead-cert way to oust the Tories.

But an alternative question open to voters is this: who would make the best coalition? Science suggests that female leaders would be the best at navigating cross-party negotiations. Research by the University of Kansas shows men are more likely to shun cross-party discussions, judge political arguments according to the party promoting them, and form strong opinions about the opposition without actually listening to them.

So, to avoid plunging into a coaltition of chaos come May, women should take the initiative in behind-the-scenes talks. That iconic post-debate embrace between Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett certainly suggests they’re in the mood for co-operation. The collaborative spirit shared by Plaid Cymru, the Greens and the SNP is obviously underpinned by their left-wing alignment, but it’s refreshing to see some cross-party enthusiasm in this election.

Why is Nigel Farage ill, and how do we cure him?

Farage is a toxic burden on our political system, and Ukip’s stranglehold on the political agenda is limiting the scope of our national debate. Technology, the arts, science and the environment are edged off the political podium by Ukip’s tedious bleating about migrants. No matter that the weight of our aging population is actually supported by immigrants, who are indispensable cultural and economic contributors to our country; Ukip would prefer they leave, so that Britain can be an “outward-looking” nation, crumbling on the inside.

Delusional about the evils of immigration and ignorant about the severity of the bigotry he suffers from, Nigel desperately needs help. Why is he so ill, and what can we do about it? The psychology of prejudice offers some pointers. Bullying Farage is entirely the wrong response, because, according to research by the University of California, racist tendencies may actually be caused by low self-esteem.

“If the problem was that people were having trouble inhibiting bias, you might try to train people to exert better control,” says Jeffery Sherman, who wrote the study. “The issue is that our mind wanders to more negative aspects of other groups. The way around that is to try and think differently about other people.”

In Farage’s case, this may require some substantial reconfiguring: his neural wiring seems to date back to pre-war Germany. Can science fix Farage’s broken brain? Virtual body swapping is one potential technique for tackling unconscious biases. Researchers are developing sensory illusions and VR to convince people they inhabit a body different from their own with respect to race, age or gender.

“Our findings are important as they motivate a new research area into how self-identity is constructed and how the boundaries between ‘ingroups’ and ‘outgroups’ might be altered,” says Professor Manos Tsakiris, one of the researchers behind the work. “From a societal point of view, our methods and findings might help us understand how to approach phenomena such as racism, religious hatred and gender inequality discrimination.”

How can we get creativity appreciated in Westminster?

Under threat from austerity, artistic opportunities are dwindling. The Tory-led coalition slashed arts funding, prompting a surge in inequality in the creative arts. Ukip want to abolish tuition fees for everyone, apart from arts students. How can we prevent the erosion of our cultural wealth?

Psychologists appreciate that creativity is not the preserve of the individual, but can be fostered by interactions between artists, their peers and their audiences. Stephanie Taylor, a senior lecturer at the Open University, wrote in the The Psychologist: “People can be made more creative… through education and through encouragement for the collaborations and groups that might stimulate creative outputs.”

Creativity cannot thrive in isolation. Getting more artists in Westminster might stimulate open-mindedness amongst our politicians. This is not about raising the political profile of the arts; they are a powerful influence in our society, but the joy of participating in them is becoming confined to the middle classes. What we do need is a more innovative mindset in politics. Gordon Shrigley, an artist running for Hackney South and Shoreditch, exemplifies this. His campaign, based at the IMT Gallery, offers no policies. Instead, he’s attempting to open up new possibilities, which is why, if elected, he says he would just keep practicing art.

The UK may not be ready for a Shrigley style of politics, but new ideas and new ways of thinking is exactly what the system needs. After all, how can we trust our parties to bring about change, if they can’t even accept the changes happening around them? We blame apathy on the voters, but given the widespread unwillingness to embrace the unstable, evolving nature of the new British politics, maybe our politicians are the ones guilty of indifference.