Our Democracy has Descended into Theatre

Occasionally I receive emails from members of the public asking me, as a Green Party member, my views on certain topics. This week I received some questions from a local student on the rise of far right politics. This is my response to Question 1.

Do you believe people have become disillusioned with modern day politics?

Yes, for the very simple reason that most political parties don’t offer anything other than keeping things exactly as they already are.

Looking back at the general election of 2015 the three largest parties (Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems) all essentially offered people the same thing (Austerity), and nothing that was on offer was going to make a difference to peoples lives. In a strange twist it was the party that was offering the least benefit to the majority of people, the Conservatives, which won the outright majority. (This was more to do with effective campaign strategies, but no doubt a very significant part was the failure of the other parties to offer meaningful change). It was soon after this that I became actively involved in politics because I had become so utterly disillusioned with it.

I’ve been able to vote for over 20 years and at no point has a mainstream political party or local candidate ever reflected my views (other than recently when the local Green Party began fielding candidates). And I don’t believe that my views are particularly unusual. In no particular order, my views are broadly:

  • I believe that the most vulnerable people in our society should get the most support.
  • I don’t believe that our health service should be privatized.
  • I believe that climate change is overwhelmingly our biggest threat.
  • I believe that there should be more taxes levied on the wealthiest people in society.
  • I don’t believe that money should be funneled offshore or that tax should be avoided.
  • I believe that an economic system that demands grow every single year is mathematically incongruous with a planet of a finite size.
  • I believe in a huge increase in environmental protection.
  • I don’t believe that we should bomb countries who pose zero threat to us.
  • I don’t believe that my taxes should be spent on weapons of mass destruction.
  • I believe that the creation of money should be brought under democratic control.
  • I believe that everyone is equal.

I would argue that all of these things are fairly reasonable, but looking at the country of Wales I am not aware of a single politician that has been voted into a position of office that shares these principles. So yes, I am disillusioned with politics because the system does not enable my views to be reflected fully through our democratic institutions.

But my situation clearly doesn’t reflect the reason why so many other people are disillusioned with politics. So what it causing this greater malaise?

Its difficult to pin down precisely but I believe the overwhelming context needs to be seen within neoliberalism, the economic principle that has dominated politics for almost all of my life.

Neoliberal economics basically involves the state stepping aside and enabling the market to perform its functions with as little regulation as possible. The desired outcome is for everything to work as efficiently and cheaply as possible so that the end user, which is us acting as consumers, benefit. Politicians of almost all parties have been following this theory without question for years.

But what we have seen over the last couple of decades is a system that repeatedly fails to deliver and as a result you get people whose quality of life decreases. The fundamental tenant of Neoliberalism economics relies on trickle down economics (so that money filters down from the top and everyone benefits) but the evidence is now overwhelming that it just doesn’t work. Inequality between the most affluent in society and those at the bottom increases year on year.

Following the financial collapse of 2008 the overwhelming response was to pump money into the banks, in the form of quantitative easing, with the hope of increasing liquidity and thus enabling the economic machine to keep working. The injection of money was supposed to keep recycling and then trickling down to keep everyone at the bottom in a place of comfort. But it didn’t work out like that.

What it created instead is what’s been referred to as the Zombie Economy; a financial system that rather than investing in physical things on the ground that could help people (businesses, infrastructure, energy) it instead sought to make its money from fantasy speculation (in the form of derivatives, future markets and property speculation). To continue to operate it still relies on semi-frequent injections of government money in the form of quantitative easing. In order to finance all of this the politicians have reduced state expenditure (cutting off support to the people in terms of essential services and social security) and increased debt (through government issued bonds).

The majority of people don’t understand exactly what our politicians have sanctioned but they can see, in their communities and in their workplaces, that there is little benefit to them. People see the impossible costs of housing, massive tax cuts to the rich, the suppression of wages and job insecurity. They see the assets of their local councils being stripped away and the services on which they depend being reduced. They worry that the benefits (I prefer the word ‘necessities”) on which they rely are the next ones to go in the coming round of cuts.

We are all seeing the increase in depression, social isolation, anxiety, psychological disorders and fear. The environment continues to deteriorate and the climate emergency continues. And amongst all of this suffering no-one is telling the people why this is all happening.

All our mainstream politicians offer instead is statements like “We are open for business’, an increase in neoliberal austerity, continued blind faith that the ‘Market’ will deliver the most efficient solution and they then dress this all up with meaningless sound bites like ‘Working Hard for You’ or ‘A Country that Works for Everyone’.

But people aren’t stupid, and deep down know that none of this is true, because nothing ever changes.

In desperation many simply walk away from politics because almost all politicians, unable to see beyond their narrow economic view, are incapable of offering any form of substitute or meaningful change.

Our democracy has descended into theatre, and the people are bored because have seen this show too many times before.

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