Thanks for the Vote...

It has become a cliché to say that the last person to enter parliament with honest intentions was Guy Fawkes, but on this day when people remember the infamous "Gunpowder Plot" and the involvement of this honest man in it, I am thankful that I live in a parliamentary democracy.
Like many I enjoyed the barnstorming performance of Russell Brand in his interview with Jeremy Paxman last week. If you haven't seen it, here it is in full, including Paxo's somewhat sneering introduction:

Despite his introduction and usual contrarian approach, Paxman subsequently admitted, on that searching current affairs vehicle, the Graham Norton Show, that he agreed with Brand that people in Britain are really disenchanted with politics and the oppositional approach of contemporary adversarial politics. This in part was prompted by comedian John Bishop's assertion that
"You shouldn't be a politician unless you have had at least one job."
(which as more than one colleague has said should also apply to pastors...)

There is a pervading cynicism regarding politics at present, not just with regard to Westminster, but also Washington, and more locally Stormont (I'm sure those in other jurisdictions would say the same). The whole "if you are for it, we're against it"-thing. Ideologically driven policies rather than evidence-based ones. And the sheer corruption of some in the public eye all helps to erode any idealistic view of politics. But I'm with Churchill who said:
"Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."
Speech in the House of Commons (11th November 1947)

Which is why I was particularly taken by Robert Webb response to Brand's interview, speaking up for democratic politics and rightly, in my opinion, flagging up the dangers of Brand's romantic demands for "revolution":
"We tried that again and again, and we know that it ends in death camps, gulags, repression and murder." 
We don't need to have read any "f****** Orwell", as Webb recommends that Brand should do, to realise the truth of this. The answer to dysfunctional politics is not disengagement from politics but engagement with and the development of new political paradigms. My response to the malaise of contemporary politics would not be to run off and join the Labour Party, even though my politics would tend to be left of centre (big surprise), because the Labour Party still refuse to effectively organise in Northern Ireland... So if I want to make an impact on NI politics who might I join? I would be broadly Unionist in my outlook, but both larger Unionist parties are trying to out-Tory the Tories... The new NI 21 party has been making interesting noises, then they got themselves wrapped up in all that Miss Ulster nonsense, and lost me... My left leanings would lead to some sympathies with SDLP and even Sinn Fein, but the first seem to be on the same self-destruct strategy as the Ulster Unionists, and Sinn Fein have not put enough clear green water between themselves and their misbegotten armalite and ballot box strategy in the past for my liking... The same could be said for the PUP on the other side of the constitutional coin... and whilst the Alliance may be a safe political home, so long as the unionist parties are running a misinformation campaign about them they will never gain traction in working class loyalist communities, and with our current mandatory coalition in place in Stormont there is no political capital in occupying the middle ground. So those of you who are more politically active, tell me who I should sign up to as a political party?

But actually, perhaps that is where the historic models of parliamentary democracy in the UK and USA are fundamentally flawed... our first past the post systems tend to lead to oppositional politics... while the mandatory coalition based on a sectarian headcount leads to the same here. We need a much more collaborationist approach, and one that is not based on crude populism or demagoguery, promising the moon and the stars and delivering neither... Running crucial decisions like whether you should be in or out of the UK or EU on the basis of a referendum, which will be determined as much by crude stereotyping and short-term self-interest, rather than real vision and properly informed and articulated national strategy.

We have to look after this precious gift of democracy and not give up on it due to cynicism, apathy or the spurious spoutings of Russell Brand... Otherwise we are delivering ourselves into the hands of multinational companies, political and religious fundamentalists, and/or the politico-military machine that already has too big a piece of the pie.

I am thankful that I live in a parliamentary democracy, and I want my children to be thankful for that too.

ps. After writing this I came across this blog by someone feeling much the same angst that I am...


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