Tired Of Life?
Samuel Johnson once wrote that “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life“. I don’t know about that. London can be a daunting place at times, especially for us Yokels. That quotation though is extremely useful if one substitutes London for Politics. For truly, all men (and women) must be tired of life if they say they are tired of politics. Politics is life! The price of a loaf of bread? Politics. The cost of a litre of fuel? Politics. Your children’s education? Politics. Your pension? Politics. Whether or not you’re required to carry an ‘ID card’ at all times? Politics. I think you get the picture. Sadly, it is all too common to hear people declare themselves non-political. As if somehow one can simply detach oneself from the very mechanisms of daily life.
We here in Ulster are more politically active, more politically engaged, than most population groups in the developed world. The underlying reasons are a matter of historical record. A population in conflict with one another, or emerging from such a conflict, will naturally be more politically conscious. Even so, political apathy and disinterest are slowly becoming more normal here too. Indeed, in some quarters of Northern society, to declare oneself ‘apolitical’ is seen as another way to declare oneself non-sectarian. This mindset is, of course, based on the false premise that in Ulster, politics and religion are somehow analogous. They are not. One can find numerous examples of Catholic Unionists and Protestant nationalists, for instance. It is unfortunate that so many people, not just here in Ulster but across the globe, are denying themselves a voice and simply switching off, disengaging themselves from the processes of democracy and governance. Politics may seem “boring” or complicated, but only because the media’s definition of the word ‘politics’ has become so narrow and non-inclusive. And we all know that where the media leads, society follows!
Freedom Is Never Free
Perhaps the apolitical should be reminded of the sacrifices made by generations past to ensure that democracy survived. Reminded of the 19,240 (British & Commonwealth) soldiers killed on the 1st day of the Battle of the Somme. Or of the 12,500 Allied POWs who died working on the ‘Death Railway‘ in Burma during WWII. Or the nearly 18,000 men who made the ultimate sacrifice during Operation Market Garden in 1944. I could list battles, conflicts and casualty figures all day. I think you get the point here. But would such stark reminders do any good? For many people, especially younger people, the sacrifices of previous generations seem remote, distant.
Would it be more useful to simply remind people that politics is inescapable? To remind them that almost everything in their daily lives is affected by politics. Maybe. The issue of political apathy though, is one which ought to be addressed with some urgency. When less than 50% of eligible voters actually go to the polls and vote, should the result of that election be allowed to stand? Where is the cut off point? 40% turn out? 25%? At what point do we say ‘this cannot be allowed‘ and actually begin to look seriously at the underlying reasons for such abrogation of democratic duty? And, just as importantly, what can be done to get Joe Public to re-engage politically.
The Redefining Of Politics
In the last few years British politics has done itself no favours. First the ‘Expenses Scandal‘, then the ‘Bank Bailout‘, a sordid euphemism for government giving trillions of pounds of public money to their old school chums and golf partners, caused more and more people to turn away from politics (at least at Westminster level) and lose what little faith they had left in the ‘Mother of Parliaments’. The shadow of paedophillia now hangs over the Palace of Westminster, like some abhorrent spectre, haunting the entire nation. Perhaps this latest scandal (or rather, outrage) can instil some kind of righteous anger in the proletariat and force some very real, and substantial, changes to our political life in this country. The sort of anger that welled up after the ‘Expenses Scandal‘ broke, seemed to gather momentum, but then simply ebbed away again. It seems tragically pertinent at this point to quote the Manic Street Preachers, who sang: ‘If You Tolerate This, Your Children Will Be Next’.
The UK political establishment cannot continue in the way it has for the last 40 or so years. If it does, voter turnout in 2020 will be down to about 15%. Democracy in Britain will, at that point, have lost all legitimacy. The politicians must change, but the voters must change too. The unscrupulous media too, must undergo some form of transformation. The scandalous behaviour of some within British politics simply cannot be tolerated any longer. The public need to get ‘as mad as hell’ and make it abundantly clear that we, as a collective entity, are not prepared to be governed by immoral vermin. The media needs to consciously and proactively demonstrate to the general public that politics is meaningful and important. The BBC also needs to abandon their own machiavellian agenda and become an impartial public broadcaster again.
We (all of us) must redefine politics. We must change the political lexicon. No more ‘spin doctors’, no more backroom deals, no more allowing young people to think of politics as the preserve of old, upper class, men. When we talk of politics in the future, we must be sure to include local politics, community politics. The politics of the street, the housing estate, the rural community. But, to take ownership of politics, there must be an engagement with politics. The next time you hear someone say: “I don’t do politics”, don’t laugh at them or mock them. Don’t look down on them. Don’t argue with them. Encourage them. Engage with them. As much as we would like to think we are influential, we politicos cannot change society, or at least, we cannot change society alone! Politics is a dirty business, and it’s high time we all got our hands dirty!