Direct Democracy and Devolution sound so grown up, don’t they? Like no-brainers, especially in the 21st Century, where we think we’re all so miraculously connected and enlightened. We complain incessantly that we want more control; that we need it; deserve it. I’m sure we do, in a parallel universe. But, while it is clear that political and civic power are too concentrated in some places and persons, I suspect that most of us wouldn’t have a clue what best to do with more power if we got it. After all, we don’t use what we already have, that smartly.
The People do not always know best. We just don’t. In fact, sometimes we are downright stupid, no matter the consensus that it isn’t good or wise to say so, out loud. For instance: I live in a Cornish constituency where, in the last general election, my shortsighted, albeit understandable hissy fit at the Lib Dems of Coalition merely allowed the Tories to swan back in. It must be really difficult, sometimes, for politicians to feign their respect for the voters.
The human world is a frightened and frustrated place. We can all feel it, or at least see it. The world shook after 9/11 and shifted irrevocably on its axe when the financial crises came to light. Since then, the pace of consequence has accelerated and intensified under our cowardly, short-termist leadership. They – we – build on mistake after mistake. Nearly the whole world is doing the same, on some level. We’ve facilitated ideological hubris and complacency, compounding misery and instability. No wonder there are grassroots collectives pushing for individuals to gain more democratic control. No wonder those who can are keen, or keen to pretend to offer it.
But the People are too busy living, or trying to, to spend 24/7 digesting every connection and implication involved in even the simplest idea. A lot of people don’t even have time to properly absorb a primetime news broadcast, let alone have the inclination to connect the dots around a plethora of single (-seeming) issues and assume direct agency. To participate responsibly, you have to be actively engaged and prepared to contemplate more deeply than on catchy soundbites and echo chambers. In the last general election some people thought they wanted the Conservative Party’s welfare reforms until they realised they had voted for cuts in their own income. Parents opening and running schools sounded like a great idea to a chunk of the populace until they actually tried it and realised how much expertise and time most of them did not have.
We need managers. No matter our sovereignty as individuals, we need leaders and overseers and at least some hierarchical structure of accountable authority to make a Society run. As much as we might feel that ‘’for god’s sake, I’ll do it, myself/could do it better, myself’ impatience, in the face of such overt fecklessness, we are also half hoping that something, someone, will take it off our hands.
Negotiating even our own lives can be more than enough occupation. We want someone else to take care of the other stuff. We don’t all want to have to run schools, sit on every committee, attend every blasted meeting that might affect our lives, keep up with every minute amendment to vote on every policy, engage with every whim and crackpot suggestion, tick-box endless, simplistic questionnaires. Well, I don’t, anyway. It may sound good in the abstract but, in practice, well: observe the EU referendum. Or imagine every category of Labour member having policy input on behalf of the rest of the electorate.
To imagine that the incoherent mishmash of support for Brexit is a thing worthy of unquestionable respect or that, even if Trump’s supporters should not be called out as ‘deplorable’, so much of their motivation clearly is, or that the utopian fanaticism for Corbyn, as the only 21st-Century light around which all the Left must orbit: these are symptomatic of our neurotic times. It took us years to create this anti-intellectual mess. There is no simple fix that can be also universally palatable.
But people tend to cling to hope where they think they have found it. We like to imagine that there must be a magic fix, if only someone would discover it or if we could just make a certain person, the whole country, the whole of humanity see it our way. If only x would happen then everything would be solved. It’s little wonder that idealists and charismatics are popular. They tell us what we should be worried about and who and what to fear and they offer simple yet dramatic fixes with casual and confident ease. This is attractive, particularly to those who think they have nothing left to lose and to those seeking the short-lived catharsis of vitriol.
Still, our leaders are the People, too, despite the quite concerted efforts of some to convey or perceive otherwise. Whether we see those currently charged with shaping our present and future as heroes or villains and all in between, they are merely a reflection of the human spectrum that they claim to serve: weak, sincere, ignorant, greedy, perceptive, compassionate, arrogant, clever, paranoid…
I don’t want ‘Brexit’ but, if we must have it, I obviously want the best achievable version, not an appeasement model for its bulldog fantasists. I want mature democratic reforms but not to serve some partisan agenda and not as a superficial sop to pacify a confused and frustrated populace. The fallout discussions around the Scottish Indyref and Brexit show how the promises and piecemeal of panic and short-term politicking, are downright disrespectful of both the electorate and our constitution.
The awful consequences of decades of causes are threatening, again, to become the new causes for decades of even more dreadful consequences. Unfortunately, a significant number of the electorate does not care and tragically, some have not even noticed.
Live long enough, though and you can feel like you’ve lived it all before. Be careful what you wish for.