In the election nobody wanted, spare a thought for the poor, bloody voter.
The more votes we are forced to endure, the emptier, the more pointless the whole ritual becomes. The link between how we vote, and what happens as a result, is weak. I keep hearing people who voted Leave last year saying things like, “We’ve left Europe now, it’s done.” The vote happened, we’ve had the result, why should we believe that any consequences follow from that? Like the anarchists of old, we seem to think that if voting changed anything, we wouldn’t be permitted to do it. Like Brenda from Bristol, we cry, “Oh for God’s sake, I can’t stand this. Why does she have to do it?”
There will be some political activists energised by any election, and raring to go. The Lib Dems seem fired up, but they can hardly do worse than they did two years ago. It is a measure of how quickly the political mood has changed that the five years in which they propped up a right-wing, neoliberal Tory government has been erased from public memory. The Ultras in the Tory-Brexit Party are also ready to rock and roll, though no doubt they’ll be a little more cautious about whose account they charge the spending to this time. Labour looks about as ready for an election as I look ready to play for Chelsea. I’m too knackered, and so are they.
The ennui isn’t simply ‘voting fatigue’, with a major vote every year for the last four taxing our patience. The real problem is what some are calling the ‘political crash’.
Like the banking crash, where the whole system was shown to be a rickety mess with institutions and rules which were not fit for purpose, and where big, rapacious, amoral beasts roamed unchecked, gobbling up anything good, and decent, and useful, so with the political crash. The political parties are like the banks.
Labour was the Royal Bank of Scotland. In the buccaneering 1990s it grew swaggering and shiny, taking over other banks, like Nat West, a colossus bestriding the world. Things could only get better. Except they didn’t. Too big to fail, they forgot to fix the system whilst they were still in charge.
The Tories are Barclays, who went through a very rough patch under a succession of bosses, before clawing their way back into the sunlight. It took a while, but look at them now! Not that anyone really believes that things have been sorted, but compared to RBS, who are basically Big Issue sellers, these guys are back on the Cristal. Riding for a fall, but probably not before they’ve trashed the place.
The SNP’s a hedge fund, a slick votes machine. Tim Farron’s Lib Dems are a cheery online challenger bank. The Green’s are a credit union, UKIP a payday loans company. They all occupy their places within the system. But the system is rotten.
That’s why we, the voters, are so lonely. Just as we need bank accounts, and access to money to function in any way in this society, we also need a political system, with a legislature, and an executive, and parties, and voting systems, to make democracy happen. And the system is bust.
There needs to be a long, difficult national conversation about who we are, how we live together, how we distribute resources, and how we institutionalise our preferences. Power needs to be put under the spotlight, including the power of lobbyists, and the power of a Fourth Estate which has moved into Versailles and has taken to wearing powdered wigs, instructing the public to “have cake, and eat it,” as Marie Antoinette didn’t quite say.
But in the absence of that necessary conversation, we are stuck with politics as it is now; a game played by bullies, sociopaths, the entitled and the self-righteous, with as much popular resonance, or real social roots, as a dog fighting syndicate.
This Brexit election, and the next two years, may be the 2008 moment for our politics – when we realise that the crisis is real, and something needs to be done, urgently.
But don’t bank on it.
First published by Yasmin Ali in her blog All Human Life Is Hereabouts on 24th April 2017 The Loneliness of the Voter