Before We Blame Democracy

Some of those disappointed with the election results have blamed the concept of democracy. Others blame the British public themselves, the Guardian even called the electorate ‘evil’. I disagree with both of these views and think it unwise to blame a loosely understood theoretical system of rule and the people engaged in it.

Democracy: is often understood to mean ‘by the people, for the people’. Now, an ideal democracy – that is truly representative of people – in an ideal society – where the electorate understand the long-term impacts of their vote and have an equal say in affairs – sounds wonderful. Of course, the UK has neither an ideal democracy nor is an ideal society. Yet I think the latter should be blamed for poor election results before the former.

We live in a neoliberal, capitalist state run by politicians that have outsourced political power to corporations. Corporations who are now so embedded in politics that they can sue countries if their profits are threatened. Meanwhile, much of the so-called free press is owned by right wing media moguls who dictate that a certain message is shared – just think of The Sun before the election supporting the Tories in England and the SNP in Scotland, its anti-Labour agenda all too clear. Then there’s the competitive nature of capitalism, encouraging us to be selfish consumers and feeding us the myth that we are ‘self-made’ – as if we can achieve greatness without the help of others. And let’s not forget mass advertising that addicts us to products we don’t need and makes us feel ashamed of most aspects of our lives – we’re not rich/pretty/social enough etc.

So somehow in and amongst all these selfish incentives and mixed messages democracy is supposed to thrive? Unlikely. We must remember the sheer power of the establishment, power that runs back for centuries, physicalised in the very stonework of the Houses of Parliament themselves. The elite have had years of getting what they want. It’s not that democracy has failed it’s that it was bought out by the establishment before it even had a chance to work.

Evil People: so, just as the tears start to fall and people get angry what do we do – we turn on each other. Conservative voters are suddenly ‘evil’ as if people who raise families, suffer depression and worry about their retirement are related to Satan. No, this is far too simple and is just reverse snobbery. Now is not the time to write people off, we must try and understand why people vote the way they do – if someone has lived in a predominantly white and middle class community and read right wing newspapers then its not surprising they won’t trust immigrants, won’t know the extent of the suffering that austerity causes and will vote in a way they think will protect their best interests and, probably, the best interests of their immediate family. But behind crass stereotypes are real people worthy of friendship who can be inspired to join the movement to affect positive change, remember the time the York Mosque invited the EDL in for tea?

So let’s stop dismissing the British people for one box they tick every five years and let’s remember they are people just like us. They don’t want to be patronised or villified. Grass roots movements that oppose austerity and corporatocracy and want real democracy and community have the opportunity to invite all people into their movements, however they vote. Most of us do care about the well-being of our family, friends and environments, there is so much common ground to be had despite the media’s brilliant ability to conjure polarity out of potential cohesion.

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Democracy does not work because the system does not work and that system is neoliberal capitalism. It facilitates psychopathy and rips apart community because everything is done for cash, not love. Even the Labour party are neoliberal. The Green party are the only one that discusses sustainable alternatives. Meanwhile, people are not evil they are just subject to the stresses and forces of large politico-economic systems that infiltrate so much of their lives – education, leisure, work, relationships etc. Now more than ever do we need to challenge the system. This is a cross party endeavour, something the Tory party will soon discover as the pillars of the economy carry on collapsing around them. Challening capitalism is often akin to farting in front of the Pope but we’ve got to do it. We cannot leave capitalism alone, for obvious reasons…

Unregulated Capitalism

It’s All A Load Of Kabul Sh*t

The lyrics of Lily Allen’s song Kabul Shit speak for themselves. Climate change, corrupt politics and warmongering foreign policy are all astutely analysed in rhyming verses. So before you cast your vote this Thursday think on the words of that famous mockney singer:
 

There’s a hole in our logic,
There’s a hole in the sky
And one day just like magic
We’re all going to die,
‘Cause we didn’t turn the lights off
And we didn’t take the bus,
Even though we know we should have
Oh, silly old us.

 

These lines refer to the hole in the ozone caused by a range of chemicals including CFCs. Interestingly, in 1987 the Montreal Protocol was signed: an international treaty that phased out the production of numerous substances that contributed to ozone depletion. Unfortunately, the Kyoto Protocol – designed to limit the amount of carbon emissions and hence curb global warming – has proven much less effective even though 97% of climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming. As Allen points out we carry on ignoring the evidence and consuming resources at a planetary pace, “Oh, silly old us.”

 

Well we should have recycled
And saved our resources
While there’s still someone else’s
Someone call the armed forces,
And we’ll blame it on terror
Also known as religion
But we shouldn’t feel guilt
For protecting our children.

 

Here Allen references resource wars – wars fought to gain control of a specific resource, such as land or water. The song alludes to the Iraq War – waged by the US and UK to allegedly find weapons of mass destruction but subsequently revealed to have been about ensuring access to oil. The war has been deemed illegal and many want to see George Bush and Tony Blair put on trial as war criminals. The lyrics also refer to terrorism, often evoked by Western governments to further justify racist and belligerent policies. Of course, some terrorism does reside in extreme forms of religion and one could even argue that capitalism is its own extreme religion forcing us to kill others for continued growth and profit. “But we shouldn’t feel guilt for protecting our children” is a wonderful sign off as Allen notes people’s tendencies to justify all sorts of actions for the safety of their own family, even if other families are harmed in the process – many of us did support the Iraq War even though it proved devastating for Iraqi civilians.

 

I don’t have the answers
I don’t know where we start,
Start to pick up all the pieces
Of everything we’ve torn apart.
Now, you’d think that we’d be grateful
For the fact we’ve got a choice
Instead we throw it back at people
Who don’t even have a voice.

 

This verse refers to scapegoating – the act of blaming someone for another’s wrongdoing. Recently we have seen Ukip scapegoating immigrants for the UK’s economic woes. Yet inherent to capitalist economics are periods of boom and bust linked to speculation on commodities (e.g. the internet, housing, financial ‘innovations’). However, rather than try and understand the root causes of these problems racist right-wing groups like Ukip play on xenophobia to try to turn people against immigrants. In the early 1900s the Jews were scapegoats, in the 1960s Enoch Powell called for ‘rivers of blood’ and recently Nigel Farage has been blaming Romanians. This is an ignorant and pernicious trope that Allen rightly challenges.

 

And the teachers always told us
Told us we should love thy neighbour,
And my mother always told me
Told me I should vote new labour,
But I don’t know who to trust
And I just find it all confusing,
All as useless as each other
Past the point of being amusing.
 

Allen highlights the increasing adoption of neoliberal policies by the UK’s main political parties. A trend initiated by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative party in the 1980s and adopted by Blair’s ‘New Labour’ party in the 90s and 00s. Now it seems that neoliberalism is a song all the parties sing too – one that promotes privatisation, austerity and deregulation. When all parties put profit over people it’s not surprising they all appear as “as useless as each other“.

Lily Allen’s is a political and pop tour de force. In a few verses she analyses the status quo with laser precision. So, before you put a cross in a box remember that this status quo does not have to go unchallenged – the power of elites and capital, the neoliberal consensus, the damage of climate change, the erosion of democracy and the waging of wars are all things that can change if we adopt policies that promote people and planet together. We do have agency and we can take action – it begins with a vote. The alternative is denial, the consequences of which are already proving dire:

 

Excuse me, sir,
But is this what they call denial,
Just to carry on regardless
We’ll only do it for a while.
We’ll carry on straight down the line,
Down the road to nowhere,
Do you know where it is leading us
And do we even wanna go there?