Why Not Us?

Let’s talk politics. This is important; anyone who states that politics is nothing to do with them is, quite simply, bone-headed and wrong. Find politics boring? Then find a way to make it interesting. Find out how it relates to your life and then speak up, before the decisions are made without you.

But why does politics turn so many people off? Why are some people clicking off this page before they even reach the end of this sentence? Why is the thought of getting involved in politics, even if it’s just to join a debate, so against people’s current thinking that they think politics has nothing to do with them?

Look at every election for the past 100 years and you will see a common thread, no matter who has won; voter disinterest. Individuals can choose to not vote in a specific election for specific reasons; for others, it’s not even an active choice – they just don’t bother turning out to the polling station because they’ve got other things to think about. Others still have never voted in their lives. Their vote won’t make a blind bit of difference, they argue; the country will be just the same just with a different bunch of idiots in charge. That’s how it works, isn’t it? People care about issues (immigration, say, or policing, or the health service), and politicians care about policies and strategies and opinion polls (when forced to). So with all of that swirling around, how can one voice make any difference?

Well, they can make a difference by combining their voices with everyone else’s who feel disaffected and actually see what a difference their power can make. The Brexit referendum is a perfect example. Brexit certainly wasn’t the expected outcome; almost all the polls indicated a small margin towards remain, and even many Brexiteers anecdotally reported a belief that Britain would stay in the EU, despite their individual vote. In the end, a 4% swing would have won it for the Remainers. 4%? That’s practically a statistical anomaly when you consider how many people were eligible to vote – 46.5 million – and how many didn’t even turn up; nearly 13 million. If even a fifth of that last group had voted, it would have had a massive influence on the margin of error.

Do those 13 million people now feel inspired to contribute to future elections, given how close the referendum was? Initial studies say no. If that large a section of eligible voters couldn’t feel energised by the question of whether or not we should leave a multi-state political union, then what will energise them? Why weren’t 13 million people passionate enough to vote? Why didn’t they feel that their voice mattered?

But, of course, we’re talking about more than that one referendum. What is wrong with a system where people are disengaged even from a once-in-a-lifetime vote? With ever-increasing numbers of people who simply don’t want to vote on anything, or who don’t feel that the system – society – has anything to offer them, has democracy broken down? Has the creation of an Establishment class, who are focused on their own powers to the extent that the rest of us are left left in the cold, created a them and us culture? Is society broken, unrepresentative, or just plain out-of-date? Are we run by people who aren’t interested in what we have to say? So many questions, such immediate action desired. We have reached a crisis point in our democracy, and we – collectively and individually – need to do something about it.

It’s easy to say that those who haven’t voted shouldn’t have a say in the future decisions of our shared environment; they’ve sacrificed their rights by not going to the ballot box. But … but … Why haven’t they voted? Is it apathy? Disenfranchisement? Anger at a system that doesn’t work any more? Have they failed society, or has society failed them?

When Celebrity Big Brother and Strictly receive more votes on a Sunday night than viewing figures to Prime Minister’s Question Time, or even an interest in who is sitting on the green and red seats in Parliament, then something has gone wrong. We are increasingly polarised into left and right, socialist and nationalist, rather than believing we can straddle the divide and look at issues. Society is becoming more divisive, more fearful of change, and unable to see that change is within everyone’s grasp. We are more powerful than we imagine. There shouldn’t be a “them and us”; we are all “us”, even when we disagree.

The word revolution has become tarnished over the centuries; people hear it and think of the French, Russian, and Chinese revolutions, where people died in their tens or hundreds of thousands for ego and a maniacal leader’s fanatical zeal. But the word needs to be reclaimed, because the concept is a good one; we actually have a revolution every five years, when we vote in a new government. We once had a revolution in 17th century Britain where we deposed a king. We were driven by people saying, “No, enough is enough. We want to see change.”

We need a revolution of thought. We’ve got to a position where politics is divorced from the rest of society – from reality, in many ways. Things seem to happen in silos now; education policy, for example, is created in committee rooms rather than tried and tested in classrooms and refined by experts. Health policy goes the same way (the huge cultural changes in the NHS, started under the 2010 Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government showing the success of bureaucracy over expertise), and we can all think of many more examples.

We need to revolutionise our thinking, and bring reality into the windowless committees of our culture. We have lost the ability, over years of fretful changes and the codification of an establishment class and way of thinking, to be progressive in our debates. We’ve become afraid of change and unable to find a way to hold debates without resorting to safe spaces, stifling of opinions, and shouting down alternative views.

We’ve lost the ability to see issues not as left or right, but about creating a common set of values. With every change comes the need to know how our political systems, our values, and our morality fit into that change. We should accept that values evolve and change over time, and actually get involved in adjusting those values.

But how can people feel engaged with the system of change when their voices appear to be ignored by our political leaders? The current system isn’t working. The political classes are divorced from reality; we’re not part of the democratic institutions that are meant to serve us. We need to revolt against a broken system.

I want to show that there’s an alternative; that the current system can and should change. We shouldn’t be afraid to change things that are broken; voter’s rights need to be expanded, rather than constricted, and it’s vital to improve expert involvement in education, free speech, health, the media, values, and more besides. Whatever a changed system looks like, the core is fundamental; to accept that change is allowed and available to all of us. We have the authority to change things, and we mustn’t allow anyone – a monarch, a government, anyone – to convince us otherwise or get in our way.

These ideas have often been described as liberal or progressive fantasies by many people, which is surprising on two fronts; why is it a liberal idea alone – shouldn’t this be a vision of everyone – and why should it be a fantasy? Why do we just shrug our shoulders so often and say, “Well, I can’t change anything, so why should I bother?”

Because it’s we should bother. It’s everyone’s responsibility. Democracy is a two-way street, and we have just as many responsibilities as we do rights.

The establishment works for us, not the other way round. The system is currently set up so that we have a chance to influence decision-making every five years; a lot of us have even been convinced that we shouldn’t be allowed to get more involved in the decision-making process through referenda, public consultations, and the like. But that’s nonsense; the development of our society – the one we all live in – is everyone’s responsibility, and everyone’s right. When something happens that we don’t like, then why shouldn’t we play an active part in deciding what should takes its place? What’s wrong with revolting against a system that doesn’t work any more?

At a time of massive change, where Brexit triumphed, experts have become easily dismissed, and Trump is bringing the world even further down a precipice, why can’t we can’t accept that revolution can happen? It already has, just not in the way we expected. Why do we shake our heads and shrug our shoulders and make ourselves believe that there’s nothing we can do? We’ve already done it, by bucking the trends and the opinion polls. Why can’t we can do it consciously?

There’s plenty we can do; we just have to be willing. Firstly, we need to accept that nothing is off the table; that change really isn’t all that scary. Whether you define yourself as a liberal or a conservative or somewhere in between – or if, like me, you reluctantly accept a vague label out of necessity rather than any burning desire to be defined by one – surely everyone can agree that change is coming in on the political winds, and that it isn’t entirely attractive. Whether you agree with Brexit, with Trump’s ascension to power, and with this new, stark era of post-truth discussions where experts have no place, or whether you wanted Hilary Trump or Bernie Sanders in the White House, Jeremy Corbyn, Tim Farron, or Teresa May inside Number 10, or if you just want to try and ignore all of this because none of the above look even more appealing day by day, then this discussion is for you.

Because revolution is for everyone. We can’t escape it. It affects our jobs, our housing, our economy, stupid. Of all those things and a hundred more. We should never accept the status quo just because; that’s wrong. We’re teaching our children to accept the status quo, and that’s wrong too. We should be angry when we’re ignored. When a group of people agree on an issue, then we should celebrate, regardless of where each individual sits on the political spectrum. Labels like liberal and conservative are deceptive; they can help bring like-minded people together, but they can also cause regressive thinking – when people outside that group are considered wrong or alien just because they don’t think the same or have an opinion others don’t want to hear.

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