I believe in democracy because I don’t want some rich elite telling us what to do.
I believe in democracy because I don’t want our whole society run for the benefit of a rich elite.
I believe in representative and local democracy because I don’t believe some rich elite can possibly know what is good for anyone but the rich elite.
I believe in democracy because I want some say, however small, in events.
I believe in democracy because it provides the closest thing to individual freedom we can collectively have.
Ironically of course, at this moment in time we have a minimal democracy (according to Wikipedia that really is the official term) which is run by a rich elite, for the benefit of a rich elite. The first is demonstrated in the Independent and the Spectator, among others. The second – well do I have to provide a list? They – governments calling themselves tory and labour over the last 40 years – have sold off any number of public assets (that’s public assets folks, not state). They want to sell more. The public sector has been in many places seriously damaged if not quite yet destroyed, taking away low-paid jobs and services at the same time. The inequality in Britain, high for Europe to begin with, is increasing. Not even working full-time guarantees a living wage, one able to provide the basic human necessity of food. Not even having two full-time wage earners can adequately provide a family with shelter (I don’t count the current private rental market as ‘adequate provision’, by and large).
The loss of democracy goes back a long way unfortunately, and there are many reasons for it, some of which I know a little of, more of which I probably know nothing about. The gradual centralisation of power and reduction of power in local councils. The rise of arrogant populist leaders – Thatcher and Blair – who believed so strongly that they alone could possibly know what was good for us that they drove that centralist agenda mercilessly. They may have also engaged in gerrymandering, the fiddling with election boundaries to encourage leadership by certain groups (please note the ‘may’). The failure of parliament (that’s my belief anyway), where all parties should be coming together to discuss the executive’s actions and hold government to account. The emphasis on party politics, on the means, rather than on the needs of the state, the end. The funding problems of parties, which means they have to ask for more money from members, who accordingly have to have money spare. The rise in arrogance among MPs who similarly believe that they alone can possibly be educated or informed enough to make decisions.
However there is another reason, or set of reasons. Our democracy is failing because we, the people, are making it fail.
We still at this moment have all the trappings, or at least most of them, of a functioning democracy. Any of us can join any political party: any of us can become active in that party (apart from that funding caveat). At the least we can all choose to become informed, interested and engaged. At the very least we can all now get out to vote.
Yet many of us do not take these options seriously. At best many of us vote only ‘the way we always have’, i.e. we don’t think about it. Far too many people are doing this. Many more try to vote tactically: they vote for ‘x’ to get a party out, or for ‘y’ because they will never lose. Far too many people are doing that. Then of course you get the huge numbers of people who are simply not voting at all (34.9% of registered electorate didn’t vote in 2010). Many of those are just so discouraged with that rich elite running the country for their benefit and think nothing can ever change.
Add up all those people. I will hazard the guess that between them they represent the vast majority of voters in this country. And between them they add up to one thing: very few are voting for what they believe, for the society and country they want. And so we have ended up with, what I fervently believe (and even more fervently hope), is NOT the society we want.
And so, please please please please, for the love of us all, STOP it. Start informing yourself now. Start to think about what society you want now. Start to think about which party is best equipped with policies, aims and visions to get us there. You can also have a look at which candidates in your area are most likely to get us there – those that, in addition to standing for their parties beliefs, are themselves truly likely to believe and act upon those beliefs, and will still genuinely try to represent you. And then get out to vote for that party, that candidate.
To inform yourself, don’t settle for listening to the party political campaigns. We all know what they will consist of: mudslinging, boasts, wild claims, all empty rhetoric. Equally, don’t assume you know what each group is offering. Take a proper look at all of the parties’ policies to start with. Consider what, under all the ‘they don’t know what they’re talking about, we do’ gibberish, they are actually saying they themselves will do. That is remarkably difficult all by itself, the main parties are showing a noticeable reluctance to come out and tell us the truth at the moment. Keep an eye out for news stories about what independent groups think they will do (e.g. this one from the BBC), and how they respond to that. Think about their track record over the last few years – the real track record of how their beliefs and, where appropriate, how society has changed in their time. While we still have time, think about where we are now in economic and global terms and whether you want to stay there (e.g. try Klein’s new book).
Never mind sitting at home saying nothing will ever change. A general election really is a chance for change. If we don’t take it, if you don’t take it, there will be no change. The Britain we have now is not an act of god: it was created. It can be re-created, it can be changed, and all the gods ever dreamed up know that we need change. Between all of those people not voting for what they believe we have one huge possibility for change. So let’s start it. You need to start it. Be the change you want to see in the world.
And since I am that way inclined, please have a proper open look at the Greens!