Stephen Baker considers the current state of unrest in the UK and beyond.
This election will resolve nothing. Nothing will be brought to a head. The job will not be ‘got done’.
Whichever party or coalition wins, the UK will still have to figure out its future relationship with its European neighbours.
The divisions opened up by the Brexit debate will mark British politics for at least a generation.
Scottish independence will not somehow magically drop off the political agenda, nor will the question of the border in Ireland.
The climate emergency will still need facing up to and growing inequality will still need tackling.
It will still be imperative that we find an alternative economic model to our present one, lest we trash the planet and subject people to further impoverishment and demoralisation.
At the other side of this election will lie one almighty struggle to safeguard workers’ rights and the environment, as well as a redoubling of our efforts in the fight against racism. That’s if Boris Johnson wins.
Alternatively, we will witness the privileged and the powerful throw everything they’ve got, through all the offices available to them, at a Corbyn led government.
At the other side of this election, politics will go on, red in tooth and claw.
This will be to the apparent consternation of the politicians, pundits and journalists who have maintained a narrative about how voters are tired of it all and just want politicians to “get on with the job,” whatever that may be.
This is predicated on the notion that people are essentially politically uninterested: the “ordinary Joe”; “the man on the Clapham omnibus”; “the dogs in the street”; the typical voter: those souls vox-popped on some commerce-forsaken provincial High Street and given a few seconds in which to condense their political opinions.
They are seldom invited to elaborate. Given just enough time to express disappointment or exasperation or acquiescence. A shake of the fist; a nod of the head; a thumbs up; a ‘like’. Politics reduced to an emoji.
But political apathy isn’t natural; it takes training. It takes the cultivation of disenchantment and the placing of impossible demands upon people’s time.
You must be too busy to think for yourself. You must be bamboozled by technocratic political language. You must not dare to dream on this side of the grave.
When ‘ordinary people’ appear on our screens it is not for the purposes of information or a comment, but an instruction about your own truncated contribution to the affairs of the day.
Remember “Brenda from Bristol”? Apparently she spoke for the entire nation with her withering reaction to the Theresa May’s announcement of a general election in 2017. “You’re joking!” She exclaimed. “Not another one! … There’s too much politics going on at the moment.”
You must come to see even voting as an imposition.
It’s as if in 2016 the voters turned out in huge numbers, took part in a momentous referendum that has utterly transformed the UK’s politics, and then slunk off, back to their shite estates, dowdy towns and backwaters, to live out the rest of their lives in quiet anonymity and indifference.
Except they didn’t. Many have continued to argue, march and campaign on the issue of Brexit. The Climate Strikes have brought hundreds of thousands onto the UK’s streets in protest: millions across the globe – and that’s before we consider the unrest in Hong Kong, Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, France, Iran, Lebanon, and so on.
Meanwhile, in the UK, Universities, Royal Mail and the NHS staff are about to take industrial action, and even the nurses in Northern Ireland have voted to strike.
The nation that Brenda is assumed to speak on behalf of is a newsroom fiction.
It exists to provide crumbs of ideological comfort to Westminster’s beleaguered and baffled professionals. It fits a view of the recent past in which the great lazy unwashed turned up in history, trashed the place, before returning to the shadows to sulk at the failure of the ‘elite’ to implement their poorly articulated will.
It follows then than in Westminster ‘getting the job done,’ or simply stopping Brexit and ending the madness, is in reality about putting the genie of an awakened public back in the bottle before it does further damage to the grand order or things. Business as usual must prevail.
But politicians, pundits, journalists and everyone else should be under no illusions. There is no end in sight. We’re only getting started.
23 November 2019