I suppose there was a time when I was foolish enough to believe that politics and political debate actually mattered. Then I slipped the rubber teat from my mouth and uttered my first words. Democracy, whatever we mean by the hippy term, is a beautiful thing until you shuffle up to it on your hands and knees and begin to examine it closely. Then it resembles Swift’s young nymph who, sitting before her mirror:
Takes off her artificial Hair:
Now, picking out a Crystal Eye,
She wipes it clean, and lays it by.
Politics has all the nobility of massaging puss from a blackhead. We are brainwashed from the cradle to believe that every vote matters but statisticians can now tell us to a precise degree that a great many votes simply don’t matter. My own vote is supposedly one of the most worthless in the country, valued at just thirty three pence at the last election. Compare that with the £1.07 spent on every ‘more valuable than most’ vote in George Osborne’s Tatton constituency. (If anybody cares to take the time, I'd like to know what your votes are worth. Perhaps you could leave the answer in the comments...)
But what is the value of one thinking considering individual when swathes of the country can be moved by dark rhetoric? George Osborne made a speech this past week in which he spoke directly to a powerful electorate who believe that the world is full of benefit bandits empowered by a liberal left who are out to destroy the country though the insidious power of compassion. It is motivating language sure to translate into jaundiced figures shuffling balefully into the ballot booths come the next election but if Osborne’s words represent reality then I’m fairly blind to that world. All I see are people stuck in hopeless situations, where a mixture of ignorance and desperation breeds a culture of rat survival. There are some who prevail but they’re the savage and wilful, shell-suited hicksters taught to leverage every advantage from a dishevelled system and to make more money by whatever means outside the system. It’s not hard to spot them and anybody living in their community can point them out, living as they usually do behind torn curtains of some cheap-rented semi at the end of the road but with a fifty thousand pound 4x4 parked outside. Nobody truly living in poverty chooses to do so unless they’re foolish enough to believe in higher things such as God or art or, the saints preserve us, writing a blog.
Democracy is supposed to be the saviour of the common man in the same way that technology is supposed to save us all from the grind of menial jobs. The reality is so different to what was promoted in the brochures. Technology has distracted us whilst the jobs became even more menial. The simple dictum is that democracy should mean most to those people at the bottom of the heap because they have the most to gain by an equal distribution of power. But Nature seems to abhor equilibrium as much as it abhors a vacuum.
Individual votes mean little, not always because many lack the intelligence to use that vote but because circumstances leads most to believe that the system cannot be changed. Politics matters little to the average person not because they grow tired of Westminster scandals and tales of knickers and kickbacks but, simply, because politics so rarely impact on individual lives. The greatest mistake of Thatcher’s premiership was to bring in the Poll Tax, a policy that impacted greatly on individual lives. She paid the price and, since then, politicians have learned the golden rule of not rocking the boat. Or, at least, choosing when to rock the boat so the wake doesn’t disturb their constituents…
It’s understandable that they govern that way. The country has become too big to be ruled from London where the debate in parliament might be given all the media coverage but it singularly ignores the real world of the other kind of politics, the politics that matter, the dreary unglamorous politics of local library closures or potholes.
To talk about national politics is to denigrate the very word ‘politics’. The national ‘argument’ is more about ideological gamesmanship, played by men and women who largely go unaffected by the hypotheses they create and enforce on the rest of the country. George Osborne preaches austerity from a lofty perch as heir apparent to the Osborne baronetcy. He talks about ‘hard working people’ (a not too subtle code meaning ‘not the workshy’) although he has never himself held down a proper job, having moved straight from university into the Conservative party where he worked as an adviser before becoming an MP. He is a thoroughbred among political hounds, sniffing the uric tang of policy shifts around every Westminster lamppost and knowing that the bray of the nationalistic trumpet promises the taste of socialist blood. His personal fortune is supposedly around £4 million. It’s an often repeated argument that a man who knows such wealth is incapable of making judgements about poverty but it’s we well knuckled one. How is he to understand poverty when he’s never had to choose between buying a meal or a book?