Tuesday, 12 November 2013

..except for all the others...

I know I'm not alone in being deeply exasperated with the state of government in the UK at the moment. The recent Brand/Paxman tête a tête is just the latest and most obvious manifestation of this exasperation, but unlike Brand I'm not a great believer in revolution. Any reading of history has got to come to the conclusion that revolutions tend to result in brutality and despotism. In the idealist's mind (and I count myself as still having one of those) there are the brave idealistic young people and noble working people of all races and genders marching, chanting and if necessary manning the barricades and chucking a few bricks until the present administration scurry, tails 'twixt legs, for their safe seats. It's a nice image but unfortunately history tells us that time and time again a 'charismatic' leader emerges and invariably announces that they alone embody the true revolutionary spirit and that anyone who disagrees can, literally, go hang, and there always seem to be plenty of ordinary folk ready and willing to do the hanging. I'm sure there must be exceptions - the Orange and Velvet revolutions perhaps and maybe that's the sort of thing Russell Brand has in mind. I don't think he told us.
But I share his infuriation with the way things are. The Today show has a lot going for it but I mentally switch off for the political interviews with misc interchangeable Govt Wonks (love that word - wonks), when you know that no matter how hard Jimmie MacNaughty probes, the politician is never going to actually say anything meaningful in case it is used as evidence against him at some later date. We know that when politicians promise us things at elections that it means absolutely nothing, and yet we vote anyway, or at least, some of us still do.

My dad - God rest his soul  - used to tell me that there was no point in going on about the state of the world unless you were prepared to get up there and get yourself elected to do something about it. I think he was being a bit naive about this. To stand a chance of getting elected in any capacity you have to have not only some good ideas and a coherent plan but also be confident and articulate, likeable and energetic, and I, like most people, am only, at best, average in those characteristics. Nevertheless I think he was right in his basic faith in democracy (the worst of all possible systems - apart from all the others, according, I think, to Churchill) and that there is little point in going on about politics if you are not prepared to take part in the process. The simple fact is that these politicians which we revile were put there by us - not, I don't mean, because we voted for them so much as because we didn't put someone better up there to be voted for.
The flaw in Brand's argument is that it's all about what they are doing to us, as if we have no way of influencing the system. (For the record I am not actually condemning Brand on this count because he actually is getting up and doing something, and so, I hope, in my own small way, am I, here with this blog.) But this is not post revolutionary France/Russia/Cambodia/China. You won't be arrested if you support a different candidate or start a new party. Obviously it's not easy, but it is possible.

The reason we don't is not because we are apathetic but because we have become pessimistic. I think there's a terrible weariness holding us back. It looks insuperable - to go up against the established public school, Oxbridge, Super-rich establishment. It's all far too complex and very few of us are naive enough to think that any of the simple totalitarian ideologies of the 20th Century are worth resurrecting. If you lived in a place like Zimbabwe or Somalia, the purpose of democracy would be obvious - to end tyranny or chaos. Here in The West it's not so clear. Government has become merely a branch of accountancy, writ large - amoral and inhuman. Milliband et al are terrified of making any pronouncement that might sound like Redistribution or Nationalisation and yet I suspect that there are many of us who would love to hear that stuff. They're terrified not of what the electorate might do but of what Murdoch will make of it, and of how The Market will react. Conversely I suspect that there might be some real support for the UKIP/BNP take on life. Fair enough. Let's have a proper contest - see who wins. Probably the outcome would still be somewhere in the middle but at least it could be a contest fought on real issues - not just maths.
And probably the place will be less stable for a while. There would probably be less economic growth, but if we're going to grow up and take responsibility for ourselves we need to be allowed to make mistakes.

And incidentally, I don't have much problem with a low turn-out. I don't want voting to be mandatory. If you're not interested, by all means, stay at home. I don't want a government elected by people who don't give a toss. A low turn-out should tell the government that something is seriously wrong with what they are offering but I don't want a high turn-out just for the sake of it.


Vincent said...

I very much respect you for airing your views and taking on the burden of democracy like a responsible citizen. I hope I do the same.

But the funny thing is that I would expect your views and vote to cancel out my views and vote.

I actually think that public school and Oxbridge provide one of the best backgrounds for public office, well, public schools in particular because they exist for that: to give a broad education, training in leadership and so forth. I also think that "old money" is a useful thing to arrive in politics with because in principle it is likely to be less corrupt, less grasping, less short-sighted, less driven by envy and resentment.

This laudable principle, or rather the laudable aim which it purports to support, doesn't manifest itself very noticeably in practice, especially today.

But I hate it when those who have been to public schools, or politicians who want to send their own children to them, feel they must conceal this from the electorate as if it were some stigma to be ashamed of.

If we must have army officers, let them receive the best training--at Sandhurst. Same with our leaders, we need 'em, let them be trained to lead.

OK, I spent too long on that point. It's clear that when support for democracy is split on tribal lines, it doesn't work too well. We see this all over the world. It's infuriating when the old class distinctions are used to stir up hatreds, that's my point. Hunt saboteurs versus the tally-ho brigade, that sort of thing.

And in America where class is not like here, it's even worse, with all sorts of irrelevant battle-lines drawn up, such as right to life versus right to choose, so many vicious fault-lines.

Democracy needs to respect the middle ground, by which I mean compromise. Not compromise on prejudices, which are poisonous, whichever side they come from but compromise on sectarian interests - to get rid of partisan enmity.

Meanwhile there are different opinions on everything and perhaps most votes will cancel one another out, like possibly yours and mine.

Steve Law said...

Yes - I have no time for tribalism either. I think what I've written here is a bit misleading in that I've used two relatively extreme examples (nationalism on the one side, socialism on the other) to illustrate my point. Sorry about that. I tend toward the latter as you know but I'd like to think that if we all took a more active part in our democracy, with new parties being founded and more independents being put up for election, that all sorts of shades of opinion could be represented. Instead we have these three more or less interchangeable parties, all thoroughly whipped in to make sure there is no wavering from the party line.

I believe in compromise too, wherever possible (although it's hard to see what the compromise would be between fox hunting and no fox hunting, but anyway.) The problem with democracy (and the reason it is the worst of all possible systems) is that it is not a system for solving problems; it is a system for adjudicating irreconcilable differences, basically by totting up the scores of the two sides. As such it's incredibly crude. It would be better if we could all sit around in the great hall, each having our saying but obviously that's not possible these days (although as part of my campaign for more participation, I'd be all for greater access to local council meetings.)

The idea that there could be an academy taking in only the most intelligent and capable, to form an elite that could rule the rest of us rationally and impartially is a very venerable one but I don't think it can possibly happen. The idea that they alone (unlike us poor benighted proles, mired in the mundane) could have an unbiased view of things, without vested interests or tribal loyalty is incredibly wishful thinking. Anyway, even if such a thing could exist, Eton ain't it, serving as it does almost exclusively those with nothing to offer but money and contacts. Oxbridge is much more of a meritocracy but selection process is still too tainted to be the academy you want.