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.
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.
These 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.