what happens when democracy ignores you?

It happened in Blair’s time.  The Iraq War mobilised millions.  Maybe not a majority, not then.  Though you’d be hard put now, after everything that’s emerged, a bit in hindsight, a bit out of a prior obfuscation impossible to sustain forever, to find too many people too keen any more to associate themselves with its supposed blessings.

It then seems that the period between May 2010 and May 2015, here in the UK, became an extended example of this.  (Not in the nature of the conflict, of course: Iraq wasn’t a developed country deliberately imposing from within austerity economics on its own people.  Rather, it had been a pretty evil dictatorship – is there any other? – which an interventionist liberalism felt obliged to engage with.

Or at least, with respect to the Blair side of things, I think that’s how it started out.)

But, over a fairly long five years, Ed Miliband’s Labour always struggled to battle it out with the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition.  I don’t think it was a lack of knowing how to exactly: what to say, what to do, where to set up alliances.  More, I believe, it was because like any vicarly type – and I think Ed Miliband is definitely one such person – his leadership didn’t have the heart to kowtow to the violence the Coalition offered up.  To meet the Coalition on the playing-field they’d designed from the outset.  That of serious conflict.

Meantime, Miliband’s Labour believed in conversation.  It truly was born of social-media tropes.

Corbyn’s Labour won’t be, I can assure you.  They’ve already shown themselves capable of using it to their advantage, that is true.  But social media for them will be a tool to fight, not converse.  And that is what happens when democracy ignores you.  Five years of being ignored bodes an awful future for those – ie Cameron & Co – who did so much of the ignoring.  No wonder the latter are already indirectly painting Labour members and supporters as Fifth Columnists:

It’s a savage game they’re continuing to play – but no more nor less than their precursor, the Coalition, played for those five years we’ve discussed:

Jeremy Corbyn represents “a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family’s security” according to an aggressive attack message the Conservatives released hours after his election as Labour leader.

The image, sent by email to the party’s supporters, selectively highlights some of Corbyn’s comments about Osama Bin Laden’s death, Hezbollah and Hamas, nuclear weapons and tax. Showing a black and white photograph of Corbyn in front of a red background, the warnings are spelled out in capital letters.

And whilst Miliband (E) would’ve decently snuffled his disagreement, and in truth did, Corbyn’s Labour has had five years of referred supporter pain – of disabled deaths, of broken families, of the working-poor, of the mental and physical poverties of unemployment – to back up its desire to fight back rather more aggressively.

Factor in, as well, the successful shutting off of almost everything left-like within Labour under Blair, and the wilderness years for Labour’s left stretch out far behind the last five.

Miliband believed in assertion over aggression, because Miliband had the power of opposition over sixty – ultimately awful – months, as well as the honestly held delusion that government was in the offing.

Corbyn is unlikely to take the same decision or direction, for the reasons – fairly emotional too, though none the less real or comprehensible for that – which I’ve mentioned above, and with which many people will be all too familiar.

So what’s the next step?  After democracy ignored a very vocal, cogent and considerable minority at the time of Iraq, after democracy ignored a probably growing majority during the last five years, and after more people voted against Cameron than for him at the most recent general election, the Tories now in power – and maybe the governing institutions they work with – must surely be a tad worried that they can no longer operate democracy as they used to.

Imagine, in fact, we’ve reached a moment when a threshold of people now ignore what politicians trot out and newspapers dutifully publish.  That’s a whole layer of comms control – expensive comms control at that – which suddenly becomes irrelevant.

Two elements interest me as a result:

  1. people will begin very unpredictably, unleashed as they are, to form opinions of their own – or, at least, opinions they believe to be their own
  2. the newspaper commentators and political number-crunchers will begin to realise their wisdoms lay not so much in understanding voters as in having the luxury, no longer to be present, of being able to define – fairly predictably and regularly – what voters thought

Not seeing into the soul of the body politic in some remarkably prescient way – instead, just being able to control it, and tell it – quite shallowly – what to do.

Imagine, this time however, that the people which democracy ignores – no longer the Iraq marchers nor the dying disabled nor the voters who refused to vote for more of the same – are those who are used to sitting amidst its highest layers.

How would they react?  What would they do?  Would they accept a fate of impotent existence and acquiescence like everyone else has learnt how to?  Would they carry on with their lives, prepared to be ignored for their deepest opinions and beliefs?  Would they allow the national discourse to revert as vigorously as some would have it revert?

Would they meekly try, Miliband-like, to converse as assertively as possible with the enemy?

Or would they choose to aggressively fight back?

I suppose my question here really is: in a democracy like ours, hidebound (perhaps constructively in some respects) by tradition, procedure, history and unwritten ways of doing, what really happens to the privileged few when fewer of the under-privileged continue to listen?

To that, I know no clear answer.  How can I?

But we may be on the point of finding out.

coalition barter: the currency and cloak of dishonest politicians #GE2015

Paul Waugh suggests the following:

Meanwhile, my Twitter timelines are full of people lambasting – even pillorying – Mr Miliband for having effectively said that he’s either going to deliver what he promises in Labour’s manifesto via a Labour government acting on its own – or, alternatively, will choose not to enter into “darkened room” deals, and thus will not govern at all.  (Talking of which, one wonders what happened to beer and sandwiches – once equally criticised, but surely less terrifying in hindsight than the rooms of dark forces which will shortly be unleashed; perhaps these latter would be the preserve – both forces and food & drink – of any conversation with the Farages of this world.)

It’s been one of my constants throughout #GE2015 that I would like to know where everyone’s red lines stand.  The problem, for me, isn’t what they’re all prepared to promise; far more the confusion lies in what they’re all prepared to jettison – how far they’re prepared to renege on manifesto commitments – in order to fashion a five-year government.

Quite apart from my gently tribal relationship with Labour, this is why I discarded outright from the beginning any engagement with the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats.  With the currency and cloak of dishonest politicians everywhere, they used the excuse of coalition barter to deliver practically everything neither dared to think out loud before the 2010 election.

From top-down reorganisation of the NHS (read a long-term, much coveted strategy for privatisation in other fields too) to a tripling of tuition fees, a free-for-all in education, a journalistic perversion and muzzling of the BBC, a demonising of the weakest and poorest in society on behalf of a name-clearing of those primarily responsible for the global idiocies which destroyed our sharing economies, as well as a whole host of other sadly coordinated tactics designed to turn citizen against citizen, the crass culpability for the chasm between what they said they would do and what they ended up doing got lost in the “tough realism” (read a self-interested pursuit of power) of that political negotiation which has become a dreadful dynamic of horse-trading at its very worst.

The reality is that last night Red Ed showed he was Honest Ed: if he can’t have the opportunity to deliver what we vote for, he doesn’t want the obligation to sign away – in backroom deals, too eagerly and too unfairly performed in (by now) all-too-familiar darkened rooms of dishonest politicking – another five years built on a foundation of lily-livered, ownership-rejecting, policy-making people and livelihood destroyers.

You can’t have it both ways, Tories and Liberal Democrats: you can’t hanker back to a world of conviction politics a la Thatcher, only then to argue the only leader prepared to stand by his manifesto – whatever! – is a politician of minor principles who deserves to have rotting tomatoes thrown at him for having the gall to believe he should stand true.

For Ed’s resilience isn’t bloody-minded “either me or nothing” grandstanding.  He understands, perhaps more clearly than the rest of us care to, that the tragedy of the last five years has come about exactly because of the underlying process of coalition barter I have described today.  The tragedy, really, that came about because both Tories and Liberal Democrats knew what they really wanted to do before the 2010 election – but didn’t have the guts to make this clear.

And there is no way, in my mind, we should ever give a second chance to – never mind trust in – people, politicians and political representatives who, more than anything else in their trajectories, refuse to take ownership for their politics.

This is why I so firmly believe it is time to give a political ideology of leadership at all levels – from Prime Minister to ordinary suffering workforces, their families and friends – the chance we’ve always given its alternative.  So often have we judged our leaders on the basis of how they can sit atop the pyramids of privilege I mentioned yesterday.  But, sincerely, I’m not looking for another balancing-act, sales-oriented CEO – who promises everything before an election and delivers quite the opposite with the excuse of negotiation to salve their conscience.

If conscience they still remember as an attribute worth pursuing.

No.

I’m looking for something else.  For a facilitator and enabler who will release as many people’s energies as possible, and in the only collaborative way the 21st century really does well.

Vote Labour, if you can –  but not to get a second-best Cameron.

Vote Labour, if you can – to get a first-class citizenry.

we don’t need pyramids of privilege telling us where we belong, ben

I’ll take Ben Mitchell to task for the first few sentences of his post over at Speaker’s Chair today.  The ones where he says the following (the bold is mine):

2005. The last time I was this unsure about who to vote for. Iraq dominated everything. I was angry. A lot of us were.

Yet the man responsible for this disastrous course of action was also the man who persuaded me to vote for him.

Tony Blair had then what we’ve been lacking in British politics ever since: gravitas and oratory brilliance. An ability to bring you along with him, even if you weren’t always convinced. Sometimes when you weren’t convinced at all.

That’s some feat. It’s a feat we continually underestimate. A great leader can get away with a lot.

I recall watching his 2004 party conference speech, impressed as he reeled off his achievements as Prime Minister. I could trust a party led by him. I would be perfectly happy to see him as Prime Minister for a third term.

“A great leader can get away with a lot.”  “I could trust a party led by him.”  “Tony Blair had then what we’ve been lacking in British politics ever since […].”

The reasons Ben gives as positives about Blair, that, in particular, a leader can get away with a lot, are undeniable.  It’s also undeniable, however, that they are precisely the reasons we don’t need the kind of leaders he continues to hanker after.  I find it peculiar, in a post otherwise full of cogent and generally even-handed analysis, that the irony of the above affirmations are utterly lost on their author.

Hagiography was never so powerful an instinct as today, in a society where the body politic’s discourse more generally demands that the voters and their families be independent of the state – and yet, at the same time, reserves itself the right to create dependency-perpetuating hierarchies and relationships.

Vested interests, I suppose, which maybe Ben forms a part of.  Either that, or a political dedication to existing institutions, acquired from a heavy involvement in – and honest appreciation of – all those traditional ways of doing and seeing.  An involvement which perhaps makes it difficult for him to even sense the irony in question.

Ultimately, he concludes that (again, the bold is mine):

Whatever happens on May 8th (and most likely for several days after), the Lib Dems deserve another shot at power-sharing. Come 2020, that may well be power sharing with Labour. First, Labour will need to find a better leader, and a clearer, more positive vision for the country.

In this I might agree; Labour does need to find a better leader.  But not in the sense that Ben is suggesting.  If Ed Miliband wins the election, it will be because he’s not only a man of a party which knows and understands empathy, but also because he’s a man of a very 19th century body politic, attempting to drag it, by the scruff of its old-fashioned neck, screaming and shouting into a 21st century of devolved democracy and properly impatient citizens – tired, as they are, and rightly so, of the retrograde economics of an unfailingly unjust world order.

The leaders we’re missing in #GE2015 – if indeed we’re missing any – are you, me, our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, grandparents and grandchildren all.

It’s we who should step up, not another charismatic “keep your hands off my politicking and let me do what I choose” clone.

No.

What we need is everyone, and anyone looking to participate in a better world, to pick up that almost techno-gauntlet that’s been thrown down by our evermore connected societies.

The leaders we really need aren’t more of those who through their gravitas and oratory “get away with a lot”, but rather those who with the little we have, “make a sincere lot sincerely happen”.

I’m voting Labour at #GE2015.

And that’s precisely because of its leader’s leadership qualities.

We don’t need pyramids of privilege telling us where we belong, Ben.

We need enablers and facilitators; leaders aiming to lead not the sheepish but, rather, the courageous, thinking people we would all like to be treated as: people, like you and me, who in turn are willing to lead each other – into that progressively kinder world which we all surely deserve.