Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Democracy - It Means Getting Involved!

A usually smart friend of mine posted up on his facebook page part of an article in the Guardian by George Monbiot.  The essence of the article as a whole is that big business runs the political parties so we might as well all give up and forget about politics altogether.  It's already been bought by someone else.  The posted segment was the conclusion, where Monbiot's lengthy, eloquent whinge-fest reached its apogee:

Since Blair, parliament operates much as Congress in the United States does: the lefthand glove puppet argues with the righthand glove puppet, but neither side will turn around to face the corporate capital that controls almost all our politics. This is why the assertion that parliamentary democracy has been reduced to a self-important farce has resonated so widely over the past fortnight.
So I don't blame people for giving up on politics. I haven't given up yet, but I find it ever harder to explain why. When a state-corporate nexus of power has bypassed democracy and made a mockery of the voting process, when an unreformed political funding system ensures that parties can be bought and sold, when politicians of the three main parties stand and watch as public services are divvied up by a grubby cabal of privateers, what is left of this system that inspires us to participate?

Oh dear.  Oh dear oh dear.  Poor George.  Politics has ceased inspiring him and the nasty corporations have taken over.  Except, er, that it rarely does and they haven't.  We live in a democracy.  Politics can reflect as much or as little of our interests as we choose to let it.  It isn't usually an inspiring process; it isn't some beautifully uplifting process; it's a messy, flawed, difficult, awkward and annoying one, and it is those things because it is a human process.  If you're waiting to be inspired, well then feel free to wait bt don't complain while others take advantage of your absence.

Because George's problem - the ultimate, well-paid middle class columnist's problem - is that it is a whole lot easier to whine from the comfy seats than to actually go and get involved.  It's Jeremy Paxman's problem too, as he complains that he wants to give up on politics and there's no-one worth voting for. It's the problem of every smug, self-righteous whiner who thinks that somehow politics and politicians should uplift them while they barely lift a finger to assist.

Monbiot's comment is redolent of the pathetic defeatism that so infests too much commentary on our political process. And yet, as a democratic country with mass membership parties, open to anyone, we all - defeatist, whittering commentators included - have the opportunity to get involved.  We can join a party.  We can spend time trying to influence it.  We can select candidates.  We can be candidates.  We can use our party links to representatives to lobby them.  We can take advantage of party machinery that almost painfully polls its members on pretty well everything.  But of course, all of that is hard work, it's slow, and it's not nearly as satisfying as conjuring up some nice words with which to complain every week.

As a democracy we get the politics we deserve.  I do want to hear diverse voices across various media; I want government to be challenged.  But I want us to think as well about the possibility that we can be involved.  At the heart of our political system are the parties that offer all of us a route into direct engagement with the process.  We've chosen, by and large, to abandon them.  Well, that's a choice we can make, but we should be absolutely clear that in making it, we also abandon the right to complain about how politics has left us beached on an arid desert of corporate sand.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Clegg Attacks 'Sneering' Paxman

Nick Clegg often seems to be the whipping boy of British politics.  Leader of the junior coalition partner, no powerful press or media to support him or his party, lambasted on all sides because he can't deliver a full Lib Dem manifesto list.  You do wonder what he could do to achieve any sort of positive press, and I remain impressed at the man's ability to simply keep going.  His latest comments on his LBC radio show are meanwhile unlikely to endear him to one powerful media presence.  He decided to take aim at none other than Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman, the Grand Inquisitor of British politics.

Paxman recently soft-balled Russell Brand in an interview and subsequently went on to echo Brand's comments about being disengaged from politics and not voting in an election.  It is easy to understand Mr. Paxman's frustration with many of the politicians he interviews - and much of it provides very good political theatre - but it seems somehow out of kilter for him to give frankly parasitical millionaire celebs an easy ride while skewering those poor politicos who do at least bother to put their head above the parapet and engage in public service.  This was also the crux of Clegg's comments today, and to be honest, I think he had it right.  Clegg observed that our politicians are far from perfect - well, they're human for a start - but that it was possible for people who opposed them to get their hands dirty and become involved themselves.  The problem with the Paxman/Brand view of politics - delivered from the lofty eyries of well rewarded celebrities who have eschewed responsibility themselves - is that it is contributing to an unhealthy anti-politics ethos in our society.

We have managed to create such a toxic atmosphere towards politicians that the very process has become one which it is almost preferable to steer clear of.  This is hardly going to contribute to the well-being of  a democratic state.  Politics is about the way we live and the good life we seek.  It is about achieving the sort of society that somehow reflects the positive aspirations of its citizens, and in a democratic country it is a collective endeavour.  We get the politicians we deserve and we get the society we work for.  If we disengage from the political process and merely stand on the sidelines casting brickbats, then we have no business complaining about the state to which politics has descended.  There is also something amiss in a polity which rewards the commentators and interviewers so healthily, they who have abjured the unpleasant business of getting their own hands dirty, whilst insisting that the public servants we elect to do the job of governing and legislating  on our behalf should be worth so much less.

A vibrant, informed interrogation of politicians is an essential part of keeping a democracy healthy.  But so too is a positive attitude towards involvement in the political process, and somehow, somewhere, our pampered media elite have simply abdicated a responsibility on that one.  The much abused Mr. Clegg was right to make the sharp comments he did.  Perhaps Jeremy Paxman would care, next time he interviews him, to offer the same forbearance he gave to Mr. Brand?