by Don Franks
Like New Zealand, Britain is officially a country of equal opportunity under the rule of law, with increasing hardship for those at the bottom.
When there’s an election, and the party most obviously callous towards poor people wins, decent folks are dismayed and bewildered.
“What the hell just happened? Why did it happen?
Then, in anger and frustration, “the voters were stupid!”
With all respect, I disagree there.
True, the ins and outs of British politics I know little about, but I think that’s beside the point. People I’ve interacted with on several visits seemed very similar to people in my own country. Some impatient, some helpful, some friendly, some impersonal, some very considerate. All, in their daily life, just trying to get by, in a modern capitalist society, with all the stresses, rewards and false hopes that brings.
In homes, workplaces and on the streets, people cope, often quietly heroic against unrelenting day-to-day pressure. The well-paid, underpaid and not paid at all, somehow cooperating to keep society going, not always smoothly, but going.
To do this, the mass of people contribute different fields of expertise. Trade skills, academic skills, parenting, negotiating, caring, teaching, organising, entertaining, fetching and carrying, picking up the shit. Society expects and demands high standards of people’s specialised intelligence; by and large this is delivered.
In one field of social life, however, extremely little is demanded of people: namely, parliamentary politics. There, the people’s requirement is to tick a voting form – however you wish – deposit the paper and return to your usual daily duties. Minimal time and effort for an apparently supremely important matter. But that is alright, because there are, in society, as well as cooks and nurse aids, professional politicians. It’s the pros’ job to be preoccupied, day by day, with political matters. It’s their special field of expertise, for which they are relatively well-rewarded, with money, perks and social status.
“Leave it to us”, they advise. “Just give us your vote and we’ll do the rest.”
This message is accompanied by a contradictory welter of claims, admonitions, threats and promises put together by specialist political public relations experts.
To the extent that their limited time and energy allows, working class voters try to make sense of the political experts’ conflicting messages. Then they vote a certain way or, if everything seems incomprehensible and remote from real life, not at all.
Voting for members of parliament is an advance on kings’ divine right but it’s not a working people’s grip on the helm of state. Post-election, politicians’ decisions may or may not correspond to their solemn pre-election promises.
Everything human changes. Parliamentary democracy will eventually be replaced by new forms of social/political organisation. In years hence, it may seem as bizarre as feudal tithing.