The Imperialism of Politics

A few strangers in a city I barely know are deciding things about millions of people. They are known as “representatives”, making decisions that will affect the lives of millions of people. At what point did someone have the “good idea” that giving a country’s citizens the chance to vote for their representatives every few years should be called “democracy”? The people rule by choosing who rules? The people decide who decides? Is that democracy? I have my doubts.

We get to choose who makes decisions about the society we live in and our rights as citizens – still seems an “oligarchy” to me, a few individuals making decisions on behalf of millions – a “democratically elected” oligarchy, but an oligarchy all the same. I would even call it a “partiocracy” – political parties have the biggest power in democracy; an ideologically motivated minority choose what policies and what candidates we get to choose from (lucky us), even though most people have no interest in ideologies.

There must be a way for citizens to bypass their representatives in the legislature and influence policy directly. As in Switzerland, if citizens can get a certain number of signatures on a petition, then a referendum may be called. As in Ireland, a randomly selected group of citizens (a bit like a jury) is gathered together in a citizens’ assembly to scrutinise and comment on legislation that a partisan system may not be able to handle on its own. Another is devolution of powers and federalisation of the state, allowing for more regional or local forms of government that might fit the more specific interests of groups within the State, without losing the system of coordination and cooperation that they exist within.

Certainly in the UK, suffrage has been gradually expanded to include most citizens of any class or gender, until we can say we have “universal suffrage”, and that it is the citizenry as a whole (with some exceptions) that determine who gets into Parliament. But the dynamic within the system still remains the same – it is still a “top-down” system with a meer “aperture” to public influence.

The creation of the UK’s institutions has an undemocratic past, being created by and for rich and powerful elites, not the general populace, and this is still embedded in its consitutional DNA. The nation-state is a micro-empire, diluting regional and local differences to augment the power and wealth of a particular class, and this carries on even when a nation-state adopts democracy or democratic features.

Sovereignty is still “locked up” in Parliament and has failed to reach the people, and so “politics”, even in a so-called democracy, isn’t the involvement of each and every citizen in the running and development of their society but the province of a few “elected oligarchs”. The protagonists of politics should be the millions of citizens represented, not their representatives, yet the media continually focusses on what’s going on in the insitutions to which politicians are voted. It is gravity upside-down.

I want to be an anarchist, but politics won’t let me. Its inteference in my life forces me to take a stance within a system I don’t wholly agree with and never voted in creating. It’s institutions and politicians interfere with my personal life, distracting me from important personal priorities. If politicians were doing their job properly, I could ignore them and live my life.

And so we come full circle to what I mean by the “Imperialism of Politics”. If 65 million people took democracy seriously, this situation would be turned on its head, our personal lives would command the gravity of politics, and institutions like Westminster and their hegemony would find themselves obsolete.

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Below are a few points I wrote on my Twitter account @GaianSon about how 65 million people are whittle down to 650 MPs.

1/ How does the UK whittle a popluation of 65 million down to 650 MPs and call that democracy? Here’s a tentative exploration of how…

2/ the UK has “universal suffrage”, but this still leaves people out, like those below the age of 18 and people who aren’t British citizens (some exceptions). That already excludes millions.

3/ next ignorance itself is a barrier. If you don’t know about the system, you can’t participate in it, except maybe by accident. More potential candidates filtered out.
4/ next is interest. Obviously, if you’re not interested, you won’t bother participating, perhaps not even vote. BANG! That’s probably more than half the electorate filtered out.
5/ so, you’re interested, you may vote or even run for election! What next? Do you have the resources (i.e. time and money) to become a candidate and do a bit of campaigning? Not many get through this filter, but if you can’t, maybe a party can…
6/ having ideological commonalities with one of our many parties [that] have the skills and resources to help get you in. This very small portion of the population decides on almost all the policies and candidates that end up going through Westminster. Helps to know your best match.
7/ A combination of charisma, know how, ambition and influential contacts also all help – doesn’t matter if you have all of them, just a couple in good measure (contacts and charisma, for example). Here you may have entered the “inner circle” of politics.
8/ and FINALLY the vote. With a bit of luck (or “contacts”), you’ll have ended up in a safe seat of one party or another – you’ve got it licked! If not, you may have to rely a bit more on public support and the whimsy of historical forces!
9/ and you have now entered Westminster and become one of our “elected elite”. From a population of 65 million through a lengthy process of filtration, you are now one of 650. Now, doesn’t that all feel democratic?