Tuesday, 17 January 2012
Ushering in a new political age
There is a need for a change in the way we think about politics in society; for instance, there is an assumption that one has to be a ‘professional’ politician to get anywhere. This is, to a certain extent, true. To truly understand politics, one must first have studied the subject and understand the philosophical underpinnings as well as the ideological underpinnings of the chosen party one wishes to represent; this requires money to attend university courses and afford all of the associated costs inherent in being a student…or does it? Surely, the truth of the matter is that all that is required of someone is the interest in politics and the willingness to read up on the subject which can be done in the privacy of one’s own home? The only reason one would have to go to university for a politics course is the snobbery of the ‘professional’ politician who would look down on the enthusiastic but motivated amateur as less able to grasp the concepts of their subject.
Assuming one could successfully clear the first hurdle of preparing oneself for one’s foray into the political arena with the ‘professional’ jackals, the next problem is how to deal with the tribalism that is inherent in most modern democracies. Is there actually a party that reflects one’s world view? There is, in the UK at least, the choice of three main parties reflecting the moderate left (Labour), the moderate right (Conservatives) and the centre ground (Liberal Democrats). I call Labour and the Conservatives moderate in their approach simply to separate them from the extreme ends of the political spectrum (the British National Party, the Communist Party) and not necessarily because their entire membership or range of views are all moderate. These three main parties may not really be to one’s taste with regards to their world view but there are plenty of smaller parties, however, there is less chance of wielding any real power with them.
Having successfully clearing those hurdles, one finds oneself as an elected representative but this is where the entire system starts to break down and where the biggest change is needed. Taking the UK as an example, it only requires watching five minutes of Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) to see that the tribal nature of politics stops any meaningful work being done as there is a constant battle between the parties of a sort that would not look out of place in a school playground – jeering, shouting, braying and bleating. This tribalism bleeds into the entire election process with political point scoring, the ‘blame game’ and, in some cases, outright slander, all with a view to grasping power. The constant circus of regular elections means that the ‘professional’ politicians seek the most popular, vote grabbing ideas rather than doing what’s best for the country as all they are really bothered with is getting re-elected. I am not, however, advocating the scrapping of regular elections in favour of a dictatorship, however benign it may be. I am, however, putting the case for the abandonment of tribalism in favour of the citizenry of the UK electing representatives who are willing to put aside their ideological differences and work together in the best interests of the country.
At the moment, we live in a society that is ruled by the politics of fear, the politics of scapegoating and the politics of self-interest. The current partisan system requires that a group of people are seen as ‘the enemy’ of a well-run, orderly and affluent society, in order to deflect the blame from the ‘professional’ politicians who are usually to blame. To take a current example – the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition Government first blames the previous Labour administration who allowed public borrowing to escalate and then looks towards the ‘underclass’ of benefit recipients as a burden, a leech on the coffers of the Treasury. Crass generalisations are made about benefit claimants by both sides of the political divide in an attempt to put the blame on the poorest in society. “The benefits system must be changed,” cry the politicians and the burden of the current cuts to public spending fall on the shoulders of those who are least able to bear them.
‘Spongers’ is an oft-used term for people on benefit but, in most cases, the recipients of benefits are far from wanting to be reliant on what meagre funds are given to them by the State. Many people would like to get back to work but are stymied in their efforts to gain employment for reasons as diverse as lack of academic qualifications, stigma and prejudice. They are, however, made the scapegoats for reasons of requiring an enemy for their followers to hang all the problems of society on.
This situation is intolerable. The UK has several hundred Members of Parliament who are in a constant struggle to gain or re-gain power by creating enemies for the general population to project their collective shadow on. Surely, it would be better if they all worked together to solve the problems rather than back-biting each other and scapegoating whole sections of society? If the current contingent of MPs had only half a brain each, there would still be around three hundred brains that could be put to better use solving society’s problems.
The situation is made worse by the fact that the ‘professional’ politicians are onto a good thing with fairly large salaries, far larger than most people in the UK will ever see, and they have the added perks that come with the job. Some MPs even come from moneyed backgrounds so have little conception of the ‘real’ world that the people they represent live in day-to-day. And, behind it all, is the fiction that you have to be a ‘professional’ politician to make a difference, to engage in the political arena; a fiction that ‘professional’ politicians are only too eager to maintain to protect their little empire and the benefits they enjoy.
What is needed, right now, is a new way to think regarding politics and who we elect to govern us. We need to look at the political ideologies we have available to us, stripped bare of the partisan tribalism and create a new vision from the best each one has to offer. We need to elect representatives who will adhere to the principles of justice and fairness to all, and not just the favoured few. We need to usher in a New Age of politics – the age of the politics of aspiration, the politics of hope and the politics of equality.
Until next time…