Democracy

Thoughts on approaching the democratic moment.

I was upset when I got home one day last week to discover that a fascist had put a leaflet through our letter box. But before I took the front door off its hinges to have it fumigated I noticed all the other leaflets that had arrived too. Then I realised: ‘Oh, democracy is happening.’ And I felt better.DSC04163

Today in this country we have our local council elections and also the European Parliament elections. And each candidate has the right to have one leaflet delivered for free, by Royal Mail. So these are what had landed in our hall. I feel sorry that Royal Mail staff have had to handle leaflets from fascists, but on the whole, I’m happy to have received everything.

You see, though it’s not perfect and could always be improved, I think of our system of democracy as one of our most sacred possessions. In the past, and even now in other parts of the planet, men and women have died to give us the right to vote into and out of office anyone who wants to have a go at governing our city and our countries. As Tony Benn was always so fond of saying:

“In the course of my life I have developed five little democratic questions. If one meets a powerful person–Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates–ask them five questions: “What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?” If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.”

So I always vote at every chance I get. And have always been mystified at the numbers of people who don’t bother. People who’ll often say ‘They’re all the same. I can’t tell the difference, one from another.’

Well, the good thing about these election leaflets is that, forced to sum up what they stand for on one small piece of paper, it’s very easy to tell the difference between the various candidates. For example:

  • Those campaigning to leave the very European body to which they want to be elected;
  • One campaigning on a cliché about ‘Charity beginning at home’;
  • A belief that a form of dress can be one of five major campaign issues;
  • One seizing its moment for a mid-term ‘protest vote’ by scaremongering about immigration;
  • And a new party, appearing to be made up of  pirates, arguing for greater democracy in Europe.

Use your voteThese examples are not from the political parties who generally like to call themselves ‘the major parties,’ but that’s the great thing about democracy, more or less anyone can stand for election. And I would defend, to the death if necessary, their right to do so. But I do hope some of them don’t get anywhere near being elected!

Which is why I’m writing this short appeal on democracy’s behalf. We might not always get the local, national and European governments we deserve, but we definitely get the ones we collectively vote for.

And my own votes? Well, many people like to keep their voting private, as they have every right to do. In the early days of limited democracy, here and elsewhere, powerful landowners and industrialists would often bully people into voting for people who would best look after the interests of the already powerful in parliament. So I understand the right of privacy.

But I am proud to call myself a socialist in public. And have always voted for the party that seems to me best capable of governing for the most equitable benefit of us all. Growing up, this mostly meant the Labour Party here in Britain and I loved the core principles on which it was founded. Especially this one:

“To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”

Since this Clause Four was abandoned in 1995 as Tony Blair sought to ‘modernise’ Labour, the party has been driven into the centre ground and away from my heart.

Leaving me with a dilemma for today and for next year’s General Election. In the past 20 years I’ve mostly been persuaded by the argument that ‘Only Labour can realistically get a left-wing agenda into government’ and have dutifully voted for them. And good things did happen. Even in the Tony Blair years. And I know there are good socialists in the Labour party, even now.

But the effects socialism is having on its policies and leadership has diminished dramatically over these 20 years. Years in which we have become led by a professional political class that many of us see as having more in common with each other than with their voters. A class delivering the country, obediently, to the global economic system. Which is using austerity politics to force down wages, rights and quality of life to deliver higher returns to the already rich and powerful. That old trick.

So, today is a dilemma for me. But I will certainly be turning up at the polling booth while I still have the right to do so.

11 thoughts on “Democracy

  1. Helen Devries

    We have had a great example of democracy in action here….the ruling PLN thought they had it in the bag…knock out the lefties with a smear campaign and that was it…all set for another four years of jam today….but the people thought otherwise!

    Reply
  2. Barry

    Good post Ronnie.

    On the issue of not voting, I would love to see an option on the ballot paper that says ‘none of the above’ or ‘I do not wish to endorse any of these candidates’. One of the reasons that some people don’t vote is because they do not wish to endorse any party or want any of the parties to think that they have actively chosen/approved their manifesto or behaviours.

    A ‘none of the above’ box would allow people to show that they are conscientious voters keen to exercise their democratic right but would also give a genuine, factual and statistically accurate picture of how many people are frustrated with the bland, identikit politicians of the main parties.

    There’s a lot of talk about voter apathy, but I believe that the reality is that there are many people who are not apathetic, but who are simply not comfortable giving a positive endorsement to any of the media-obsessed, morally bankrupt, out-of-touch, upper-class career politicians who dominate British politics.

    This lack of real choice is how we end up being ruled by governments who don’t get anywhere near 50% of the vote. If we could get real choice and variety back into politics, then more people are likely to engage.

    At the moment the choice is an unsatisfactory status quo or a nutjob party! Hobson’s choice if ever there was one…

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Well said Barry, I particularly agree about the unsatisfactory status quo and career politicians.

      I did a creative ‘non-vote’ on the Mayoral election here a couple of years ago. Because we were supposed to have had a vote on whether we wanted an elected mayor or not, but didn’t get it, I wrote that I disagreed with the process on the ballot paper. Therefore still counting that I’d voted, but as a ‘spoiled paper.’

      Reply
      1. Barry

        I have a friend who has spoiled his ballot paper at every general election for years. He feels its important to go the polls, even if he refuses actively to select one of the parties standing. It’s such a shame that these very genuine and democratic spoiled papers are counted in exactly the same way as those spoiled by people too stupid to mark the paper correctly!

      2. Ronnie Hughes Post author

        Yes, I feel taking part in democracy is both a right and a duty and would never miss an election. But the quality of political thought, reporting and practice these past few years has been particularly poor. So I can well understand the intelligent spoiling of ballot papers.

  3. Maggie Wallace

    The Green Party seems to me to be more socialist than Labour these days. I too have been saddened by the dumbing down and “richification” (is there such a word?) of New Labour, and I don’t see anything much changing at present. Nice post!

    Oh, and nice Blog too! I love Liverpool, and really appreciate blogs that show the city as it is, and the way it is gradually getting better and better – which I do believe is happening mostly these days… But I could do without our Mayor. Grrr. Now our Lord Mayor is a different matter, he is a very special person, we’d be better off with him as Mayor! (though he prob wouldn’t want to do it)

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thanks Maggie. Glad you’ve discovered the blog.

      I haven’t got much time for the Mayor either, but it’s the role rather than the person I object to. At least Joe Anderson is the leader of the dominant party, so there’s probably not much happening that wouldn’t have happened anyway, so far. But of course the position holds powers that can over-ride the elected city council, and is therefore anti-democratic and potentially very dangerous.

      You’d like to think a future Labour government would sweet the city mayor role away, but I’m no longer impressed by our bossy political class or its commitment to democracy.

      Reply

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