Democracy is dead. Long live the corporatocracy.
Corporatocracy n. pl. A society or system that is governed or controlled by corporations.
I sit typing this article, one week before one of the most crucial elections of my life time (for international readers, the UK is less than a week away from a general election). My brother, 7 years younger than me, believes in the Brandian system of not voting, conversely my best mates are doing everything they can to rid the country of our iniquitous coalition. I, on the other hand have a few confessions to make.
My confession: my first involvement in politics came at the age of 16, joining the Labour Party and at college, bringing students into Parliament to meet Members of Parliament. I have knocked on doors, smiled for photographs and stayed up until 7AM watching election results. This election, I’m afraid – none of that. This election it’s been communications and strategising.
For those that know me, I apologise for placing the following in to black and white, for those that don’t – this election is one I have termed a ‘change election’. In short, my theory goes that every 15 years or so, voters usually vote for a change in the direction of the country, in both policy and outlook. I won’t bore you with the depths of my theory, suffice to say that in the UK this has been seen in the 1945, 1964, 1979, 1997 elections. Enter 2015. This year my theory seems to be in tatters, outwardly the country looks to be indecisive, as if we can’t quite decide which party to govern, a bit like a buffet, the sandwiches look good, but so does the quiche. For a country renowned for ‘strong government’ due to its antiquated First Past the Post system, it seems that we are about to elect a government that none of us voted for and in low numbers. Therein lies a problem.
In the 1964 election, 76.4% of people aged 18 (21) – 24 voted. In 2010, the same demographic joined the 15.9 million that didn’t vote, just 51.8% of that age range voted. That said in 2010, 74.7% of those aged over 65 voted. It’s therefore no surprise that the over 65s in the UK have had not a buffet, but silver service offered to them by the political class – quiche and all. Increases in the state pension, protection of free bus passes and of TV licences. 18 – 24 year olds on the other hand are victim to increases in tuition fees, scrapping of EMA and a (now) 15% youth unemployment rate. Statistics over and done with, after all statistics should be used as a drunk man uses a lamppost, for support not illumination. Other than the obvious point that the political class panders to those that vote, something else is going on here. The generation of people that voted for the first time in 1964 have continued to vote through to their (no longer) retirement age. A 21 year old voting for the first time in 1964 would have been 67 at the 2010 election. Look at what they have been offered this election.
Back to my brother, who has broken his leg and has spent the past few months trapped at home, with me lurking around the corner in election mode. Talking to him and his visiting friends has given me possibly the most important lesson about democracy that I have had in a long time. I have known for a long time that his generation (and mine) has the feeling that the political establishment has abandoned them.
And do you know what, to an extent they are right. But then again, they are also guilty of abandoning electoral politics – not politics. The student protests, the rise of YouTube causes and community action, demonstrates a huge sense of political involvement. The correlation between the decline in trade union membership up until 2012 and the decline in turnout since 2001 might to many, suggest that democracy is dying. When multi-nationals offer financial incentives to the political class for legislation, when the NHS is being eroded to the private sector at a rate of £1.1 billion per month, when the direction of a country is shaped upon whether HSBC will ‘leave the UK’, are we seeing the transition to a corporatocracy? Will big business continue to avoid tax and lobby our politicians?
When Nye Bevan said that the NHS “will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it” in 1948, elections produced high turnout. After all, a war against fascism had just been fought; engagement in the system that had prevailed after that war was at an all-time high. Where is our Bevan of today – seemingly conspicuous in their absence. For many young people, this character is Russell Brand. Brand is an appealing character who seeks to fight an establishment seen by so many as inherently against them, an advocate that the apoptosis of the political system is not voting. For many, he is the standard bearer of the fight against perceived oppression. If democracy continues to decline, he might one day be that Bevan, but for now he remains a palliative voice. If those returning from the last war hadn’t used their hard fought right to vote, not only would those millions who stood in the rain on 10th April 1848 at Kennington Common spin in their grave, but the welfare state would never have been established. Democracy without participation only empowers those monsters we seek to defeat.
Change election. This election is about you. Not to be dictated to as to whom to vote for by some doctrine, therefore not democracy, but to engage with those that closest represent our values. Democracy isn’t the crossing of a box – that quaint Tory myth that British democracy was built on the playing fields of Eton; democracy is that of Jarrow marches and the Orwellian miners of Wigan, those that we remember and should not experience. Politicians engage with their electorate and if you aren’t apart of that, the chicken and egg experience will never exact change. Corporations do not operate by common vote, but by financial dictat. Not voting is committing democracy to that of the now extinct Dodo, a bird you have heard of but will never see again. Democracy not dictat.
Is my change election theory dead like the Dodo as well? I think not. Like Greece, each nation of the UK has a party offering an alternative, mostly socialist; some may even call that alternative a ‘change’, if anything is certain, the direction of the last 15 years IS about to change. If I’m honest, I expected in 2010 that 2015 would herald the coming of an Attleean change, now I just hope Britain has the courage of Greece.
Imagine that if in a weeks’ time, that 75% of those aged 18 – 24 went out and voted, that those 15.9 million people voted – spoiled their ballots or voted for someone closest to their values – then a true protest or revolution would happen. What is at stake is more than just workers’ rights, the NHS and welfare state, its changing a government that has forced the poor to suicide, that is guilty of murder. I admitted that I hadn’t been out door knocking, that said, I sure as hell will be voting, my brother too hopefully. I hope to see you at the polling booth. If I don’t catch you there, I’m sure the future corporate machine will allow you to vote, at a shareholder AGM. No shares?
Too bad, I just cast my vote.
“So this is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause” – Padmé Amidala, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
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