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.

why aspiration is a load of codswallop (and other idiocies of western society)

Some stuff follows, in no particular order – except that of being what first comes to mind …

  1. The unemployed – and the wider rates of unemployment – are a sign of technological change and development (I resist the term progress), as well as government’s failure to do its job: these are two excellent reasons for centres of power and wealth to charge the unworking poor as responsible for both their own states of being and mind:

    Unemployment is being “rebranded” by the government as a psychological disorder, a new study claims.
    Those that do not exhibit a “positive” outlook must undergo “reprogramming” or face having their benefits cut, says the Wellcome Trust-backed report.

  2. Poverty – and wider states of inequality – are a sign of concentrations of wealth which do not choose to make their resource work creatively – a sign of what we might term bad capitalism.  As a result, it becomes necessary to blame those without such choices – the working-poor, the disabled, the long-term sick, pensioners etc – for the inability of society to provide them with a decent life: it becomes necessary to blame the unchoiced, if you like, for the actions of those whose journey is far easier, and whose lifestyles are peppered with options.
  3. Capitalism does prioritise competition over collaboration; exclusivity over sharing and copying; repetition over true innovation.  No wonder they drill into us we’re not up to the job of being entrepreneurs and creators: if the whole nation did rise as one and became the creative souls they’re wanting us to aspire to being, a capitalist approach to making society would tumble and fragment under its own contradictions.  Capitalism can only work when a few have what the many must only wish for.
  4. In essence, in truth, the word aspiration is so important in modern politics because it allows the powerful to suggest we must continue to hope for a better existence; a hope which in no way – in reality – will ever serve to threaten their status quo.  By the very act of simply aspiring, no more – not doing, not achieving, not reaching anywhere in particular – we can continue along our merry way of little-by-little amelioration without ever affecting the people who sit atop it all.
  5. Finally, it’s clear that there’s plenty of resource swilling round the economies of the world to do far better by its people.  I have no solutions to the challenge – except to repeat what I said yesterday.  Far better than regulating an always ingeniously- and cruelly-moving target is to fundamentally change its nature.

A bit of a random post today: comes of getting up at 4.30 am, I think.

Until the next one …


capitalism is good for communities – discuss!

Last night’s debate at discuss.org.uk’s event, held at the magnificently 21st century Manchester Central Library (its remodelled insides, I mean – outside, it remains grand old Manchester), argued for and against the motion: “Capitalism is good for communities.”

For the motion: Breffni Walsh, Founder, Brands Are Best; and Penny Haslam, of PHEW

In the UK, enlightened capitalism helps us all. Right now, big business understands and delivers against its obligations to deliver corporate good and there is an unprecedented – and growing – recognition that satisfied and engaged employees and receptive local communities are good for business. Not least because everyone has seen the increased risk – and often spectacular fallout – from businesses that lose the public’s faith. Also, imaginative ways to respond to economic pressures have resulted in new public/private partnerships whereby our biggest businesses can get involved in helping to deliver fresh, new and effective approaches to education, health and other public services.

Against the motion: Paul Kennedy, Sociologist, MMU; and Georgia Rigg, Leadership lead, RECLAIM

On the other hand, it could be argued that big business has inveigled its way into society in ever more insidious ways. That we are all consumers first and citizens second; victims of increasingly sophisticated ways to embed marketing into our everyday lives. And with zero hours contracts and ever ingenious ways to protect profits and bosses’ windfalls at the expense of the workers, you could argue that as both consumers or employees we have never been more victimised by rampant capitalist forces.

The debate was chaired by Michael Taylor, Founder of Discuss – as even-handed and efficient a chair as one could hope for.  The evening flowed well as a result, with plenty of vocal audience participation – both during the presentations as well as after in the Q&A sessions.  Interestingly, Michael encouraged people to state points of view, not only to ask questions.  This hasn’t happened on previous Guardian Live-sponsored events I’ve been to.  I don’t know if it’s because northern folk know how long to expound a pet theme (maybe more societally conscious of others’ rights of expression!), but offering explicitly a pulpit up to the floor caused zero problems of any kind.  No one attempted to hijack the meeting, as had been the case a couple of uncomfortable times in London events.

I was undecided at the beginning, and prepared to listen.

As the debate developed, some of the key points got lost in the passions on both sides.  There were actually three groups of participants: the “for” and “against” presenters being two; the audience, a participative and necessary third set of voices.  It was refreshing to see that people were open to having their minds changed.

Personal anecdote combined with more technical and general overviews provided for a good mix of approaches.  This Storify gives my impression of what happened.

Yes.  As you can see, quite despite myself I think, I voted “against”.  I think this was more to do with the measured forcefulness of the floor than the cogent preparedness of the panel.

But as I say in my tweets during and afterwards, if we want to fix capitalism – and I still think it’s possible – I think imposing a massive and fundamental change on corporate law by making all corporations into equivalents of US “benefit corporations” would serve much better – than, for example, a harsher regulatory framework – to provide the level playing-field which the good people who work in corporate capitalism everywhere need, in order to be able to consistently follow up their manifestly good instincts:

In the United States, a benefit corporation or B-corporation is a type of for-profit corporate entity, legislated in 28 U.S. states, that includes positive impact on society and the environment in addition to profit as its legally defined goals. B corps differ from traditional corporations in purpose, accountability, and transparency, but not in taxation.

The purpose of a benefit corporation includes creating general public benefit, which is defined as a material positive impact on society and the environment. A benefit corporation’s directors and officers operate the business with the same authority as in a traditional corporation but are required to consider the impact of their decisions not only on shareholders but also on society and the environment. In a traditional corporation, shareholders judge the company’s financial performance; with a B-corporation, shareholders judge performance based on how a corporation’s goals benefit society and the environment. Shareholders determine whether the corporation has made a material positive impact. Transparency provisions require benefit corporations to publish annual benefit reports of their social and environmental performance using a comprehensive, credible, independent, and transparent third-party standard. In some states, the corporation must also submit the reports to the Secretary of State, although the Secretary of State has no governance over the report’s content. Shareholders have a private right of action, called a benefit enforcement proceeding, to enforce the company’s mission when the business has failed to pursue or create general public benefit. Disputes about the material positive impact are decided by the courts.

It’d be a long haul, of course; there’d be many vested interests of the bad sorts out there who’d fight tooth and nail to prevent any such changes.  But for others, others we need to reach out to, eschewing greater regulation in favour of the innovation good capitalism has always been characterised by would surely get more than a few dyed-in-the-wool capitalists onboard.

And it would allow them (us!) all to deal with goals such as social justice within the framework of capitalism: at its very centre and core as well; not just tagged on as lame corporate social responsibilities.