It’s worse than oppressive – it’s embarrassing!

ballot box

Who on earth are we going to vote for?

The Conservative Party is now so far down the rabbit hole that the leader of the Labour Party has decided to take over as a new incarnation of the Tories. Unfortunately, team Starmer are behaving more like the new Tories that everyone hates than the mythical ‘nice’ old ones. As for the smaller parties, even if we had an electoral system that gave them a fair chance, the Lib Dems so far have served as nothing other than Tory enablers, and the Greens are too busy rooting out any members who still know or care what a woman is to do anything useful.

Some of the old kind of Labour Party people are busy trying to form a new party but so far, none of the attempts look likely to be established enough to be useful next year, so social media is full of people desperately asking who we can vote for. How did our politics get into such a dysfunctional state?

Are we asking the wrong question?

As homelessness and poverty go through the roof, and more people are failing to find employment that will pay enough to cover the #CostOfLivingCrisis, as our young people battle through a flawed education system, worried about both their employment prospects and about whether the climate crisis will drive us to disaster before they reach maturity, the people of this country are developing a tendency to compare themselves to hobbits, and wonder just what it is that will flip the switch and turn enough of us from quiet grumblers to angry warriors demanding justice.

Admittedly more people turning up to support striking nurses, protest austerity or defend refugee hostels from the government’s cruel “asylum” system, but there is another destructive force growing now that will make even the politest of English people think about taking action.

I’m going to look at a couple of the consequences of the appallingly bad politics we’ve suffered, then suggest what we might do about it…

A national embarrassment

It was notable during the coronation – whilst the media blarted out hours of extremely tedious, almost entirely over-the-top royalist reporting, various local traditionalists prepared for coronation picnics and group viewings, only to find that it wasn’t just the rain keeping people away – the majority were more than not interested, they were embarrassed. Many were on social media, complaining bitterly that we were being made to look foolish by press releases going round the world, claiming the Brits loved their new King, and were going to “swear allegiance” in front of the telly when he was crowned.

By the end of coronation day, even more people were complaining about the police who, for some years now have been encouraged by bad government and bad law-making to behave in an increasingly Stasi-like way. They excelled themselves on coronation day, going round London arresting people who looked as though they might do something republican. The actual, self-proclaimed organisation Republic were told they were to stand in Trafalgar Square, where apparently dissent would be permissible — but the leaders of their campaign were arrested, and their placards confiscated, as they attempted to get there. The Met even ended up arresting a night-safety patrol for looking as though they might use rape-alarms in an anti-royal manner.

It’s so bad, it’s embarrassing

Over and above every day embarrassment is the shame many of us feel over this government’s obsession with “small boats”. Even those who fear our services being overwhelmed are quite shocked at the inappropriately aggressive way most politicians talk about the asylum seekers who have become trapped in Calais camps, and understandably try to escape from them.

Not many British people realize that our country is not, in fact, a favoured destination for hordes of refugees. Politicians certainly never explain it. They seem to want people to think refugees are our worst problem. In truth, if people try to come here, they come for a specific reason – perhaps they have family here, or the chance of a job to go to, or they have simply become trapped at Calais, after failing to find a better route to safety. Most asylum seekers aim for countries with governments that accept more refugees, and are easier to get to, so there really isn’t any reason to be extreme “to put them off”.

Despite the Government’s efforts, ever-increasing numbers of us know full well that our country takes fewer refugees than many others, and that the apparent “refugee crisis” is caused by the government failing to deal in good time with the ones who’ve arrived in recent years. The playing-to-the-gallery plan of calling them “an invasion”, and sending lost and desperate people to Rwanda is (quite obviously) a cover from the Government’s own administrative failure. And it makes our country look completely insane.

Why is our government so bad?

Whether it’s cruelty to refugees, intolerance of dissenters or insulting comments about nurses or teachers, who seek only fair pay and decent working conditions, our politicians could not do better if they were actively trying to infuriate us all.

Where is the balance? Where is the voice of reason in our government? Why is the so-called opposition attempting to appeal to the right, whilst the right-wing government attempts to appeal to the minority far right? The two-party system in this country is supposed to be an ever-present source of check and balances — but the party that should be countering, and so moderating, the actions of our government are instead trying to become a clone of it.

Newspaper headline

Most people, seeing this extraordinary statement from Keir Starmer, immediately think of the Iraq War, where our government under Tony Blair joined a US endeavour that killed hundreds of our soldiers and an unimaginable number of innocent Iraqi citizens. What would Blair on steroids look like? It’s hard to think of any more likely scenario than the war that will finally kill us all.

Why do our politicians not see that we’ve reached a point now where the majority of voters are not just disapproving, but downright embarrassed by them? More than a few are becoming disgusted and frightened. Can the politicians possibly think their behaviour will win them votes? I don’t think they do.

Most people are decent, most people want fair play. The public’s response to the government’s ever more appalling attempts to be needlessly cruel to refugees, the poor and the unemployed is becoming obvious. No-one wants to be “over-run by immigrants”, or to be conned by welfare cheats, but most people do want our country to pay public service workers decently, and we want to do our fair share in dealing with the tragic, human fall-out from economic problems, wars and climate crisis. We don’t want the UK to be a heartless, monster-country, and we certainly do not want people of any kind dying on the streets.

Guardian article: opinion: it's no longer the will of the people to turn our back on asylum seekers
Read Kenan Malik on what people really think about refugees
Sussex Express article about government refugee plans
Read one man’s response to the Government’s unpopular plans for refugees in my part of the country

I think one of the most useful points in that first article is the discussion about how people’s views about refugees are influenced by how much they know about the situation, and by what politicians have been saying. Most of the apparently aggressive, right-wing views we hear around us come from those dwindling numbers who still believe what the government tells them.

The truth breaks through eventually though, even when politicians of all parties tell the same lie and the mainstream media obediently parrot their nonsense. We can see that breakthough in people’s changing response to the Israel-Palestine situation where, during the last ten years or so, despite the media’s hopeless message, an ever larger proportion of our people have worked out that it really is not a “fair fight”, in which we can do nothing because “one side is as bad as the other”.

Many now recognize the Israel-Palestine situation as similar to what we saw in apartheid South Africa, and that it obviously needs the world to intervene to prevent the escalating cruelty, as we all did with South Africa. The difference is, the mainstream news is not saying that — they are not reflecting public opinion, but trying to lead it where politicians (who are after maximum profit, not fair play) are trying to drag it.

Double Down News on Palestine

Click to watch Double Down News interview about Palestine

We can only understand, and respond to this situation when we realize that our politicians do not think they are doing what we want. They are not trying to appeal to a population they imagine are all aggressive right-wingers, they are trying to make us into aggressive right-wingers. They persist in this even when doing so is making them, and us, look stupid. They are doing so even where it will lose them votes. Why would they do that, and what do we do about it?

Polite fight-back

It is possible for a polite, hobbity nation to deal with a stonkingly unfair government. It is possible to politely fight back in a civilized manner. We are doing this, now. Look at the orderly but determined way people continue to support strike action taken by doctors, nurses, teachers, civil servants and transport staff as this unreasonable government increasingly obviously prolongs industrial disputes by failing to negotiate fairly.

We are seeing it in the firm and fearless response citizens are making to the most obvious of cons going on in privatized “services”, such as our water companies.

Hastings Independent article about Southern Water protests

Click here to read Hastings Independent article about Southern Water protests

We are seeing it in the ever-increasing number of crowdfunders set up by, and funded by, ordinary people, to bring legal actions against establishment unfairness and manipulation. As a result, many of Keir Starmer’s parachuted-in, right wing election candidates are dithering about, increasingly desperate to look as if they are not so right wing after all in order to get elected, but conscious that Starmer wants them to act “like Blair on steroids”.

Many exasperated citizens are now saying that we should vote for independents or small parties, or new parties, in the next election. Some are saying “what’s the point of voting to get the Tories out, when Starmer’s Labour are saying they are now Tories?” Others say “oh, they can’t be as bad as the Tories.”

Maybe they can’t – maybe they can – sometimes, in their efforts to look authentic, wannabees are worse than the real thing. I really do not fancy “Blair on steroids” in government whilst the Ukraine situation teeters on the brink of world war, do you?

So why are our politicians so bad?

There is a body of people who really do want our politicians to have all those embarrassing (and destructive, and violent, and unfair) views and policies…

Cartoon lecturer at blackboard

Vocabulary problem

The trouble is, if I say it’s capitalism that’s corrupting our government everyone will divide on ideological lines – so let’s drop the word for a moment and say, do you think personal profit (“me-first” thinking) and business profit (“economic growth”) should be the first priority of politicians? Most people can see that’s not the way to get a government that works for the good of the people. That’s what capitalists are though, people who put profit before everything else. We need a government which is not dominated by capitalists.

"Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all." - John Maynard Keynes

What can we do about it?

I think there is something we can do, something that comes in between the depressing powerlessness of saying “so who can we vote for?” and the downright terrifying idea of no-holds barred rebellion. We need to take our minds off the next election for now, and think about how we might go about getting some more reasonable MPs lined up. I think the problem is who is paying our MPs. Neither the Tories’ candidates, nor Starmer’s Labour candidates, are going into politics expecting to live on an MP’s salary. They are expecting to get exceedingly rich, and increasingly that’s also true of what we used to think of as the minority, “progressive” parties.

That expectation of riches is what we need to stop. It is not illegal for MPs to take large donations from business interests, nor is it illegal for them to accept second jobs, consultancies, and seats on boards that bring them tens of thousands a year over and above an MP’s salary, and all those allegiances their other incomes create make them excessively right-wing, and/or makes them support policies that people don’t want or need, because they what big business wants.

Who can live on £80k a year?

There was a time when MPs didn’t get paid at all, and some people think we should return to that situation – but we started paying MPs a salary for a reason. If you don’t pay them at all, only rich or retired people can afford to be MPs, or else your MPs are entirely funded by business interests, and so don’t work for the people at all.  What we need to do is seek out and support MP candidates who are actually willing to live on an MP’s salary. It was £80k a year plus expenses before the last pay-rise they gave themselves. Normal people know that you can live on that easily enough, especially when “expenses” can include a second home in or near Westminster, to save on commuting costs. MPs who claim they can’t live on that salary are are more than just an embarrassment, they are a raging insult to the majority of the citizens in this country, who have to live on considerably less.

Let’s campaign to make second jobs and large business donations illegal — and in the meantime, let’s keep asking political candidates and MPs if they’re wiling to live on an MP’s salary. Tell them you won’t vote for them if they aren’t.

Embarrassing? It’s worse than just embarrassing. We are reaching a stage where the poor, the sick, the homeless and the refugees are dying from the results of this embarrassingly bad government.

Keep supporting the strikes and the citizens’ fight backs, and keep asking MPs about donors and second-job plans, and whether they think they can live on £80k-£100k a year plus expenses. If they don’t, we’ll have to hold out for some that are willing to. Ultimately, if we’re all firmly united against embarrassingly bad politicians, politicians will have to change, or be replaced. We can make this happen. Please keep pushing, everyone!


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