So what is politics? In March 2006, Yahoo! Answers was asked the question: “How do you define politics?” The Best Answer was from user Crash&Burn, who said:
Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and election funds from the rich by promising to protect each from [the] other.
A pretty good answer, considering where the question had been asked (I’m assuming here that Crash&Burn lives in/comes from a “Western”, “developed” “democracy”. Because of course, in “nondemocratic” countries there’s no real need to lie to the poor. The poor don’t vote. Or if they do, it’s probably because the local warlord or whoever drove them down to the polling station and helped him with the ballot form.
Thing is, the average citizen of a Western/developed/democratic country has just as little control over his life as the poor downtrodden guy from the overt dictatorship. Think about it: when election time comes round, how many manifestos and pledges have you really, truly believed? If you’re a repeat voter, how many promises have you seen politicians break?
There are a few fundamental flaws with “democracy”. The first, I explained in Politics Explained FFS part 1: majority rule does not scale. The larger the electorate, the more losers. Secondly, there are the vested interests. And I’m not talking about the vested interests whose AK47s and worthless banknotes persuaded the poor to vote the “right” way. In the 1980s, the Thatcherite Conservative government in Britain played a few nasty tricks to keep the nation under control. Luckily for the Tories, they’d inherited a recession. “Socialism gone mad!” they declared. Thatcher actually said, in an interview in the British magazine Women’s Own:
“I think we’ve been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it’s the government’s job to cope with it. ‘I have a problem, I’ll get a grant.’ ‘I’m homeless, the government must house me.’ They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There’s no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation.”
Thus Thatcher did away with the essential foundation of socialism itself: Karl Marx’s famous slogan “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” There was no such thing as duty to wider society anymore. In fact there was no society. Everyone was responsible for himself and his own. Everyone else could go hang – perhaps literally. During this time there was a resurgence of so-called “Victorian values”. Put the poor and the homeless into the workhouse. That’d sort out the feckless layabouts who believed the mythical “society” owed them a living.
And to make sure everyone took his responsibilities seriously, the government gave the British something to concentrate on: their homes. Compare the housing markets of Britain and the rest of Europe during this time. In the 1970s, Britons, like their European counterparts, mostly had their homes on long-term rental agreements. But in the 80s the Thatcherite government pushed through measures like the Right To Buy council houses. You were a failure if you didn’t own your own home. Home ownership was a mantra. So you took out huge mortgages to buy your home. And then, when it all started to bite, you had that grave duty – putting and keeping a roof over your family’s head – which made it much more unlikely that you would press your employers for more pay and better conditions. Simultaneously the government produced a raft of anti-union laws that left British workers the least protected in Europe. It became pretty routine for employers to take you on as a temporary worker on a 12 month contract, because temporary employees did not qualify for workers’ rights.
So, Britain enjoyed a period of great insecurity. If you complained about your lot, you might end up unemployed and homeless – incapable of providing for your family – while the Tory press told stories about how much worse things would be under a Labour (ie socialist, Marxist, probably full-blown Communist) government. Did you now that MI5 (the UK’s state security service) actually put about rumours that Harold Wilson, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, plus senior union officials and Labour politicians, were actually KGB spies? Absolutely ridiculous; but MI5 actually used their fabricated “evidence” to obtain permission to spy on Wilson and his colleagues.
Anyway, I’ve written far more than I initially planned about the vested interests that can keep so-called “democracy” from being truly democratic. I’m going to take a wee break now. But fear not, for I shall return with Politics Explained FFS part 3. What I’m really looking forward to is outlining my own suggestions as to how states could get governments who would be truly representative and accountable. Think I’m crazy? You ain’t seen nothing yet!
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