is full of using labels or pronouncements contrary to all truth, in order to mask the reality. Labels can be powerful. “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on,” as Winston Churchill famously stated. Giving concepts a particular label, morphs the perception of it in the minds of an observing crowd. Never has this been more self-evident than in the media and the politics of today. Words are chosen carefully – even when they appear so ridiculous or brash as those frequently spouted by America’s ‘would-be-hero’ Donald Trump. It is not by accident he slings more muck in the direction of Hilary Clinton than a tractor pulled, organic faecal dispenser. It is a calculated tactic of psychology, and it is proven to work. ‘Throw enough excrement and some of it will stick,’ has become the mantra of all Western campaign managers and politicians these days – including that of Brexit, with the deliberately misleading ‘lie’ about £350million a week being saved.
The point is this: Labels matter. They are being churned out left, right and centre by politicians and experts. They always have. Our entire political structure and social strata is based on vague and misleading labels. Perhaps the biggest of all is that of ‘democracy’. Ask anyone what type of government they have in Europe, the US or the UK and invariably they will tell you it is a democracy. Then try asking them what this is. The recent response I heard to this in the UK was: ‘democracy is democracy’. This was too close to the whole Prime Ministerial nonsense doing the rounds of: “Brexit means Brexit” for me to be in any way satisfied. On pressing for more information the concept apparently boiled down to: “I have a vote… everyone has a vote every five years. We choose the government, and that’s democracy”. Who could argue? This is, indeed, our system of ‘democracy’ – a representative democracy, whereby we elect the representatives who govern on our behalf. If they screw up, we vote them out. Everyone has only one vote, so it is a level playing field.
Except it is not a level playing field. Nor is it democracy. It is labelled as democracy and there are elements of it, but even these centre only on a social contract supposedly established every five years. What is more, as is often pointed out, the UK system every five years more often than not puts a government in charge that gained the vote of a minority of the people (see how the First Past the Post system works – and the statistics for the General Election 2015). Instantly, the playing field is no longer level. If my chosen candidate loses his campaign to win the seat in my local constituency, then my vote does not count towards representation in the House of Commons. I am labelled as a citizen with a vote, but in the end my vote was counted and then essentially discarded. Well, no mind… I can stick around for five years and try again.
This is the second phase of the un-levelling the playing field being. Once the votes are counted and the Members take their seats in the House of Commons, they are (barring committing a heinous crime) sat on those seats for five years. They may hold frequent ‘surgeries’ for their constituents to vent frustrations and opinions, but they are not obliged to do anymore than lend a courteous ear. Indeed, a cynic may suggest that the ‘surgeries’ are nothing more than a PR stunt to remind people that they live in a ‘(representative) democracy’. “I can go and see, or contact, my MP whenever I need to” – of course, but will they listen if there are still 5 or 4 or 3 or even 2 years left until their (social)contract is up for evaluation? In any case, your MP is not necessarily anything to do with the government. They may be in opposition. This makes their powers and opportunities demonstrably reduced. Even if they are representing the ruling party, they may not be a minister. The government is made up of a selected handful. And they chop and change at the behest of the Prime Minister – note, not at the behest of the people they govern. It is unbelievably hard to have access to a Minister. Unless. Unless you already know them. Or. Unless you have the means to open doors. Not to buy access in the sense of a brown envelope slid surreptitiously under a newspaper – yet perhaps by a party donation… or maybe owning a leading financial business… or even owning or being in charge of a major media outlet.
Having been elected, those that represent the people are no longer answerable to the people who voted them there but to the people who will, firstly, keep them there and, secondly, those that can smooth the probability of them continuing to stay there. Add to this ideological favouritism (“if you agree with what I agree with, or with what will benefit me – I’ll listen to you”) and you have a rather unlevel field of play. The access to the people in charge is for club members only – a plutocratic club. The representatives and club members have five years to stack the voting system (gerrymandering/constitutional change) and media in their favour. The people can wait five years, and then they can try to elect another group of representatives to play as the custodians of the plutocratic members club. There is no accountability; merely a periodic plebiscite for the participants of power. No level field of opportunity to challenge, question or have access to those in power means no equal accountability. No equal accountability means no true democracy.
So how can we level this playing field? In the end, the first thing to do is perhaps change the label. When we are asked what type of government we have, we should be educated enough, informed enough and open enough to be able to say: ‘a plutocracy’. For those who feel uncomfortable, by all means try this: “a plutocracy, but with a loosely representative democratic process every five years.