…when we fundamentally agree with each other.
All through the arguments over leaving the EU, there was an underlying mantra that Brexit represented the will of the British people, democratically expressed through a referendum.
Which was true.
No matter how much we might quibble over the goalposts, the numbers, or the quality of information provided to the electorate, Leave won an overall majority. That victory was further enforced at the last General Election, when the Conservatives were voted into power with a commanding majority on a promise to “get Brexit done”.
This is democracy in action, isn’t it?
Well, no. It isn’t, actually. It’s a demonstration that the political system we are ruled by is not democracy. It is democratised capitalism. People are only ever asked how they want their capitalism, hard or soft.
If we genuinely had a democratic political system designed to reflect the will of the people, we would not need referendums. Those in power would have a constant feed of information telling them what people thought. If European legislation was causing friction and discontent, that would have been investigated and dealt with in negotiation with our European partners. If immigration was causing disquiet and social tension, a truly democratic government would have intervened way before it descended into racist slanging matches. It would have investigated the root causes of the disquiet and social tension, and worked with communities to resolve them. Similarly with any abuse of the benefits system, real or perceived. It would have restored harmony where there was discord, and allowed everyone to get on with their lives.
I believe this is fundamentally what the majority want – the freedom to get on with our lives and not have to concern ourselves with politics. We want a just and fair society where we can be rewarded for our own efforts, and criminals feel the weight of the law. We want a robust public safety net which catches us when age, illness or misfortune knocks our independence for six. We want good infrastructure that means we can communicate effectively, trade competitively, and live in peace with other nations. We want to feel proud of our towns, our landscape, and ourselves. We want the bounty of nature respected and protected from human greed and ignorance.
That is what democratic government should deliver. That is the will of the people. But what we have is a political system based on a power struggle between the owners of the capital and the people who have to work to acquire it. It’s a bargain forced on capital by its need for labour, and it only ever gives people what they can wrest from its grudging hands. In return, capital demands its pound of flesh, as it always has done. You work at the hours capital demands at the jobs capital demands, for the pay the market determines.
As automation increasingly reduces capital’s need for labour, so the bargaining power of the working population decreases. Public services are seen as unnecessary expenses. The demands of working people fall on deaf ears, and people without capital begin to be seen as expendable. This is not to say that the people running the system hold such views, let alone the people voting for them, but they simply don’t understand what the machine they are cranking the handle of is designed to do.
For those who have capital, however modest an amount, the machine has delivered comfort and prosperity – which they perceive to have been achieved through their own efforts – and they can see nothing wrong with it. For those without capital however, the outlook is bleak. Their bargaining power is reduced to the power of persuasion. Their access to basic human rights relies on the charitable instincts of those in power. There is no compulsion on capital to take any notice of them. The system attaches no value to them.
We are experiencing the kind of government this produces. When COVID-19 hit us Britain, like America, traded the lives of its citizens to preserve the interests of capital. Individuals and small businesses are being left to cope with the catastrophic economic consequences of the pandemic alone, while public money largely goes to the big owners of capital. We are seeing billions of pounds wasted on inept, if not downright corrupt, public procurements. We have seen health workers left unprotected, and care workers and those they look after abandoned to die. Key workers who stepped up to the challenge of a pandemic, often at considerable personal risk, are rewarded with empty words and a pay freeze.
Boris Johnson’s bumbling incompetence in handling both the coronavirus pandemic and Britain’s exit from the European Union, and the on-going tragedy of a mentally unstable US President systematically destroying a country that vaunted itself as the “leader of the free world” are both sad products of the system of democratised capitalism.
It doesn’t work.
It’s destroying the conditions for life on earth.
We need something better. We do not need strong government. We need good government. And all the time politicians simply have to periodically ask an ill-informed electorate for their opinion, we’re not going to get one.
Whether you are a business entrepreneur or unemployed, a farmer or a technologist, an executive manager or a homemaker, schoolchild or pensioner, this is our country and we need a government that works for us. All of us. We won’t get that until we have a truly democratic system that puts people in charge and capital in the servants quarters.