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Home > Politics

Election 2005: After all is said and done

11 May 2005

'If you don't do politics, there isn't much you do do' claims an advert by the Electoral Commission. This is demonstrably untrue: our friend Mike doesn't give a toss about politics and he went out with a model, moved to New York and got a job with Marvel Comics where was paid $50,000 to post up stupid web crap about Captain Nerd and Shrink Boy, or whatever.

'If you don't do politics...' is exactly this sort of earnest hectoring that makes you want to reject sensible politics completely and vote Monster Raving Loony party, despite the fact they're so fucking unfunny they make throat cancer look like quite a good laugh.

But after weeks of election overkill, you can't help but wonder what it was all about. Some of the truest words of the whole campaign came, ironically, from the vapid world of fashion. In an otherwise pointless 'speak your brains' segment on BBC news, fashion designer Katherine Hamnett said: 'I'm really angry that we have so little influence over the government.'

She was talking about the issue of fair trade, but she could equally have been talking about privatisation, or 'transparency' in government (something the government was very fond of until expedient lying became more profitable), meaningless initiatives like citizenship ceremonies, or any of the ways in which government policy hasn't tallied with what people voted for in the last election.

The best example is the war in Iraq. Broadly speaking, Labour voters made the reasonable assumption that Labour stood for better public services and nice stuff like higher pay for nurses. And while the shrewd Labour supporter wouldn't have been expecting old skool socialism, they couldn't have imagined that Labour would support a crazy American neo-con fantasy about reshaping the Middle East.

And although we frankly don't give a toss, this situation has been mirrored for long-suffering Tory supporters. Over the past few years the Conservative party has flirted with all sorts of 'modernising' ideas, few of which can have held much appeal for traditional, Daily Mail-reading Tory voters.

In fact, in darker moments, it's hard not to reach the conclusion that democracy is a sham.

The UK's first-past-the-post system has obvious flaws. The whole system is a distorting mirror: votes in different areas don't have the same weight, and the composition of the Commons regularly bears little resemblance to what the overall votes cast were.

But no system is perfect, and the big thing any form of democracy has in its favour is that it prevents too much authority ending up in the hands of the few. As Winston Churchill put it, democracy is the 'least bad' form of government. But is this enough in 2005? Watching the platitude-filled election campaign, you have to wonder 'Is this the best we can do?'

The most obvious problem with democracy is that however much you attempt to remain open-minded and genuinely try to make the right decision about how to cast your vote, it only takes one idiot to cancel out your good intentions. Idiots like Sue Croft, writing on the BNP's website:

'I'm tired of living this Orwellian nightmare. I'll be damned if new labour [sic] are going to keep stamping on my face. Go get em [sic], BNP

- Sue Croft, Spalding'

Orwellian nightmare? In Spalding, Lincolnshire? We checked the town's website and it doesn't look much like Airstrip One.

We can only conclude that Sue is slightly prone to melodrama: 'It's like the film Zulu round here! By which I mean I once saw a black man innocuously walking down the road.'

Sue's comments unwittingly echo a rather academic debate about the ancient Greek word demokratia. In modern times we tend to use the word demokratia/democracy in its literal sense: 'people power'. But ancient Greece wasn't so simple. Who were the people to whom the power belonged? Was it qualified citizens, or the 'masses'?

The Greek word demos could mean either. There's even a theory that the word demokratia was coined by democracy's enemies, members of the rich and aristocratic elite who did not like being outvoted by the common herd. If this theory is right, democracy might originally have meant something like 'mob rule' or 'dictatorship of the proles'.

This all sounds a bit crypto-fascist (and is a bit of a moot point). In 2005 the idea of being overwhelmed by angry, self-serving peasants who just want to eat your horses/daughter doesn't make sense. We're all educated and informed voters these days, even Sue, who thinks that Spalding is a dystopian nightmare, but at least knows what Nineteen Eighty Four is.

But if you've worthily sat through the last few weeks of electioneering, you'll have noticed that the greatest threat to democracy isn't some Toqueville-style tyranny of the masses, it's the way that yet another election has been conducted as a series of glib soundbites aimed at the person who can't be bothered to ask whether their own views even begin to make sense.

People like Sue. So thanks to Tony Blair and Michael 'Fucking' Howard for all the platitudes, and thanks also to Sue for making the walk to the polling station so totally worthwhile.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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