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:
- 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
- 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.