The death of grassroots democracy?

August 20, 2016 at 4:55 am (class, democracy, elections, Guest post, labour party, workers)

A discussion piece by Tim (of What About Classism?):

I’m a left of centre Labour voter, but I am not a hard left ideologue or a communist nor dream of some sort of communist utopia, or anything like that. Far from it, in fact. Like most people who are from working class backgrounds, be they black, Asian or white or whatever other ethnic minority we may come from, I simply want an economy that works for more people, including of course myself, my family and the community I come from. We are told again and again that the UK is the world’s fifth biggest economy, yet there is poverty everywhere, low wage zero hours contract and insecure jobs, the NHS is being underfunded, the North is worse off than the wealthy parts of Southern England, disabled people are being persecuted and the icing on the cake is that austerity is being forced on the poor for the greed and mistakes of an unregulated banking industry, and a political system that now whether nominally left or right has abandoned the economic working class, the economic working class being anyone black, white, Asian, immigrant or anyone else who is poor in this very wealthy country, even when they are in work in many cases.

Democracy hasn’t been abandoned at all, it has merely become the preserve of the very wealthy, the upper class, the upper middle class and the middle class, so about 20% of the population are represented, and often deftly represent themselves very well. The sad fact is that the majority of people are not represented and are not allowed to represent themselves anymore either. We have a ‘freemarket’ economy that benefits more or less the same people who are in power, and the rest of us are excluded from the benefits of a wealthy economy and political enfranchisement.

I’m not a ‘Corbynista’ either, but I notice, as many people have, that the ‘unbiased and completely impartial’ media, and the political establishment have been going at him day by day. Why is this? Many on the right make jokes about him, saying he will never be PM and actually saying they hope he stays as Labour party leader as he will never get elected. As well as this, many Labour MPs are desperately trying to oust him, saying rather strangely that he will divide the party if he doesn’t go, yet by attacking him and putting pressure on him they are threatening to almost destroy the party if they don’t get their way. It is another problem with democracy that MPs, far from being public servants, are primarily carving out lucrative careers for themselves by selling themselves to the highest bidder, or the neoliberal ideology that dominates now. Most of the new Labour party ordinary members support Jeremy Corbyn, whereas many of the MPs don’t. But the members of the party voted for him. For once in a long time, many people feel that a change is coming. It is obvious also to many of us that the system which has institutionalised economic injustice at its heart, is the preferred one for many wealthy people, regardless of the hardship and poverty this creates for millions of people. That many of us who struggle either in unemployment or low paid dead end jobs are sick of this should come as no surprise. The democracy of the wealthy and privileged is now used to deprive those who are already poor of their democratic rights, in a supposed democratic nation. That is about the bottom line.

There is very little if any real precious grassroots democracy for the economic working class, as most of the politicians tend to be mostly white middle class career politicians who if we’re being honest, serve themselves first long before they serve the people who vote them in. They also have very little in common with ordinary everyday people on the street. This is obviously something that has been purposeful, as it appears that working class people, in the broadest sense, have been stopped from getting into politics and becoming MPs. There could be a number of reasons for this. The crushing of trade unions, or certainly their disenfranchisement from the political process by both Labour and Conservative governments, has stopped working class people getting in through the trade union movement to parliament, but there is a sense that this has been something more concerted and that most mainstream politicians of major parties tend to be metropolitan white middle class professionals from London, or occasionally middle class professionals from another ethnic background or provincial part of the UK, but the reality is that few are genuinely from working class backgrounds anymore except a few here and there. The problem with this is manifold. Most of the politicians are white, middle class and male, and many from London or certainly based in London for a lot of the time. Most of us cannot identify with that, and feel that they are not speaking for us, but speaking for the white middle classes mostly in London, and this is all major political parties. Secondly, parliament and its workings down in London seems far too cosy a club and far too focused on the South East of England and London, where often the rest of us feel left out. Thirdly, few working class people of any kind are really represented so there is no connection between them and the political class. Fourthly, affluent politicians mostly based in London are far more likely to be concerned with affluent people in London than anyone else. Finally, but I am certain I could add far more here, it seems to take the typical politician years to get around to even discussing issues that affect working class people, in fact the majority of people in the country, whereas it would take a working class person ten minutes to say what was wrong, and what was needed to be done. Is this ultimately why working class people are effectively kept out of politics now? Too much blunt honesty, and not enough polish and professionalism and nice sounding but meaningless words?

It can be said too, that very few working class black people or working class Asian people, or any other working class people of any ethnic minorities are MPs. Why is this? Putting in affluent middle class black and Asian MPs in parliament doesn’t really change much. So, again, the vast majority of people in England certainly, and possibly less so in Britain as a whole, don’t really have political representatives they feel really identify with then or really represent them. There is a massive malaise and dissatisfaction with politics and politicians all over the world, if this were not so why would people be voting for Donald Trump in America, more and more right wing politicians in Europe, and in the UK the whole union on the verge of splitting up? Many working class people seemed to vote UKIP, even those who would normally vote Labour, simply because the Labour party has abandoned their traditional core supporters and ceased to believe in left wing policies, issues and economics. The Liberal Democrat party moved to the right, and the Conservative party has lurched to the extreme right, particularly and most obviously in an economic sense. So everything has swung to the right, which doesn’t bode well for any kind of democracy. I believe sincerely that if the working class are denied democracy or any say at all in how things are run, sooner or later, the middle classes also become disenfranchised too, perhaps some of those who have turned a blind eye to the end of grassroots of democracy at this time. I think this is where we are heading, slowly but surely, and such a society can in no way be called a democracy. Sadly, only when the rich get much richer and the political class become administrators for the establishment and the rich and powerful and become more and more cocooned from the harsher reality many people will be going through, and the majority of us have had enough of keeping a very wealthy elite in tax breaks and being their armies of cheap labour, and keeping a political class in power who actually only represent themselves and their wealthy paymasters, something may begin to change. But, I believe a sea change is slowly taking place. We have been pushed too far, and been treated too badly and we have nothing to lose and everything to gain by demanding better pay, workers rights and to be treated better in the world’s fifth biggest economy. We have democracy to gain. This isn’t a plea to people on the left, btw, or just to working class people, although goodness knows most working class people need a better slice of the economic pie and to be treated more fairly, it is a call to everyone who believes in fairness, social justice and democratic progress.

Another problem for the UK is the lack of checks and balances between political parties and even social and equality movements. Left and right doesn’t mean that much in political circles anymore. The Conservatives are very right wing, and the Labour party is centre right. Most of the other parties are either spent forces or just don’t appeal to most of the electorate, and they can promise anything they like because few people vote for them anyway. When of course they start to get more people voting for them, they just begin to look like all the other mainstream parties. Basically, they are all the same or they become all the same. This of course is not good for true democracy and for the checks and balances that need to be in all societies. It has gone too far to the right, particularly economically. Without democratic checks and balances, societies deteriorate. They either swing too far left, or as is currently happening they swing too far to the right. Neither is healthy, and few of us want an extremely left wing or extremely right wing society and political system. We need political parties to oppose those who are in power whilst in government, because ultimately a healthy democracy is really compromise between opposing forces, ideas and cultures agreeing to work together, and not against each other. But there must be healthy checks and balances, and we do not have that anywhere in the West at the moment. We certainly do not have it in the UK.

The voting of Brexit by admittedly a narrow margin, was spun, as I knew it would be though I voted Remain, as the ‘lumpen proles’ i.e. the racist white working class voting to leave the EU because of mass unfettered immigration. I suspect that some people, of all class backgrounds and of many different ethnicities, voted to leave because of the fear of uncontrolled immigration, whether that is a real fear or not, but many others voted because they felt the Tory dominated establishment/political establishment and the present ‘free market’ system was not in any way benefiting them. I know members of my family voted leave merely to defy David Cameron and George Osborne, and not for any lofty, or otherwise, political sentiment. Many people, both politically left and right, and of different ethnicities may worry about economic migrants coming to a country where there may be 1.7 million unemployed. Why shouldn’t they? For that matter, why is there more concern for people coming to the UK to find work when those poor of all ethnic backgrounds already here and for a number of generations are dismissed, sneered at or simply ignored? Shouldn’t there be concern for all those who are poor including hardworking immigrants, and not just who the affluent liberals say deserve care and compassion? Who decided it was OK to play God, and make differences between different sets of essentially poor and disenfranchised people? The old ‘racist’ argument for anyone who raises the merest concern about immigration is tired and has to be pushed aside. But we should raise these concerns alongside systemic rigged economic abuse against all poor people, whether white, black, Asian or new immigrant. We are a democracy and we need to talk.

Identity politics is simply the affluent liberal metropolitan version of the colonial tactic during the British Empire of ‘divide and conquer’. I don’t even believe most equality organisations now when there is this idea that they work for equality for all people. Identity politics and virtually all equality organisations seem to talk about everything and campaign for every injustice they can but class discrimination primarily against white working class people. But as I have written before, if those claiming to be so concerned about equality, assuming that means economic equality (or what?) are indifferent to millions of white working class people’s poverty, struggle, low paid work, zero hours contract jobs and their abandonment by all political parties effectively, how much can their concern truly be for ethnic minorities or poor woman, and so on? It merely looks ultimately like affluent middle class people talking about poverty, and not doing a great deal more. Talk is cheap. And even if some of those in such organisations actually do something for other economically and oppressed groups, WHY DO YOU IGNORE CLASS PREJUDICE AND CLASS DISCRIMINATION? Until you answer this, and until class discrimination is brought into the national debate, and by working class people, we will have no answer as all is a wall of silence around the whole class system debate. But the longer the issue remains taboo, most of us who are working class can only conclude that ignoring class discrimination is merely because most of those in equality movements are from the middle class, which has to change, and more sinisterly that the white working class are being played off against most other minority groups to create hostility between all those who are poor at the bottom of the economic system and take all our minds off the growing economic inequality and divisions that have got much worse. Until that is proved wrong, I suspect more of us are going to believe that. Over to you.

The social contract is broken. There is precious little social mobility, educational opportunities, decent employment and chances to progress for any working class people. Society is just not working for the majority anymore. Class discrimination has got much much worse, and at the same time there is a virtual media blackout on it, and the economic injustice that is part and parcel of most class discrimination, racism and sexism. We are not begging to be noticed anymore. The more those fighting for the economic justice of all working class people are ignored, the more just we see our cause is. We are in for the long term. First you will laugh at us, then you will ignore us…

What should a healthy democracy involving all classes and groups look like? It should look like something we are all involved in. Most of us have been disenfranchised from any kind of political and political process for many years now. It is time to reclaim democracy for all of us. It is also time those who have taken the brunt of the economic downturn and austerity had better life chances, better educational and job opportunities and the acknowledgement that nearly all working class jobs are vital to the running of society, not middle management jobs that anyone could do or very high paid jobs that pay far more than anyone is truly worth.

It stands to reason now that things may get worse before they get better, and perhaps this is the intention so that those making more money than they will ever spend can simply push things to the extreme because they know that most of us are fed up with the economy and being told endlessly in the news how good it is, and not really benefiting from it. The worst of capitalist excess is simply naked greed with a very dodgy ideology that claims wealth trickles down, which it doesn’t, and giving tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires helps facilitate economic growth and create jobs, but even then many of us feel that it isn’t working for most of us and that most of the wealth is going to those who are already very wealthy anyway. What really is the point of that? What sort of society do the majority of us want? Democracy starts with you and involves all of us, and is more than putting an ‘X’ by another interchangeable party or MP.


  1. Robert said,

    It was, said various centrists on the Conservative Party side of the Butskellite middle (if Mrs. May may cite Austen Chamberlain it’s time to cite Gaitskell and Butler) TIME TO RESUME CONSENSUS POLITICS.
    Actually there might be something to be said for Consensus Politics, as contrasted with Partially Politic Consensus, or the sort of Consensus which Keir Hardie came into parliament to challenge, in which politician talked to politician and a pseudo-art, a Kitsch of the supposed possible, was being performed rather than a proper continuing investigation of what still and will need to be done.
    Failure of consensus has come to us in a rush, Trump certainly, the EU vote, and all the questions concerned with — regardless of how far he’s right or wrong or (un)electable — the recurring Labour Party problem of late associated with the name Corbyn.
    A veteran Trade Union and Labour Party official observed to me and some others not to be confused with his party allegiances, at the time of the Gang of Four and the departure of Roy, Shirl, Dave and Bill that he hoped that might get some talk going and welcomed it.
    Butu it’s don’t disturb the sleeping voter time, still and again, multiple consensuses but what quality of politics?
    Or what politics is for

  2. Glasgow Working Class said,

    Labour has to represent all the British people and not Momentum. Labour will be meeting Jesus in the wilderness for decades. Corbyn has not got an anti Capitalist programme. He is a chancer and his faithfull folowers will join Jesus in the political wilderness. Blair won three elections Corbyn and the mob want to lose elections. Bunch of wankers.

  3. controversialchristian1 said,

    But, the fact is, people in the media and the political system have been decrying the absolute dearth of grassroots participatory democracy for ages, and when people start to get involved, there is an absolute backlash against it from the media and political system!

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