The once bulletproof perception of democracy has taken a battering of late, with many people waking up to the idea that there could be a better way of doing things. Could we see a movement towards the local to answer some of the questions that global democracy fails to? Elliot Ryder looks at some of our options.
You might find yourself living in democracy devoid of purpose. And you might find yourself completely numbed, engulfed by confusion. And you might ask yourself, how did we get here? Here in 2028. A landscape no different to 2019; with the same set of worn out characters, freshened by a quick wardrobe change. Armed with renewed cultural references, handily drafted on Twitter by a twenty-something unpaid intern. Copy and pasted manifestos dusted down from 1997, 2010 and 2017. The same imperious nautical metaphors are filling the chamber at Westminster for Prime Minister’s Questions, now turned Facebook Live Brexit Q&A session. The platonic ship of society lies with the Mary Rose. Its proprietors clinging to what debris they can salvage. Pseudo-intellectuals of the woke left step night after night into the Newsnight arena, presented by Roy Keane, where they beat away, smugly, the decrepit ghosts of fascism.
This vision is 2028 isn’t all that far away, and it really doesn’t differ too much from our current experience. Absurdities will fill the holes in well-worn logic. As an esteemed doctor once said: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” We’ll get there in record speed, without moving a muscle.
Political structures in Britain are careering towards bottleneck. Paving the way for another plausible option is second to squabbling, infighting and low levels of collaboration. It reflects nothing of the social enterprises generating support within Liverpool and across the country. And this streak of people providing for themselves is all a product of attempting to define Brexit, in a side-track from the sentencing of austerity. It’s a task that misses the point. Misses it entirely. The multifaceted nature of the beast leads esteemed thinkers and theorists to consider the word as an empirical experience yet to occur, irrespective of the social existence that lives and breathes beyond this elite obsession.
Photo by John Johnson
Three years on, the Brexit machine has only managed to find reverse gear. Grinding, whirring, churning all discourse to leave a society wearing scorched tyre marks reading remain and leave. Politics is now at a standstill and every cast member is an antagonist. In a cast full of enemies, the severe nature of one’s character is much harder to observe. Perhaps the Guardian’s John Crace put it best with his take on the inexplicable return of Nigel Farage and the Brexit party: “Here was an all too possible version of the future. One where nuance and complexity have given way to soundbites and populism. Where lip service is paid to healing divisions, providing it’s everyone else who is making the compromises… Westminster ought to be shit-scared.”
2016 has a lot to answer for, but, initially, it can be thanked for thrusting its greasy palm onto the shoulders of the West’s political consciousness. It shook it into an unwanted attention – for the most part. Astounding, really, given the cruel wave of economic re-enhancement undertaken at expense of the needy post 2010. Jeremy Kyle and Benefits Street rallied against any sympathy among the upper working classes. By 2016, people seemed to be straining to find out what was happening, while having no idea what was happening at all. Corbyn’s rise was promising, but the truth of the matter, as he has moulded himself on, is easily shouted down by jingoism and faux-nationalist cries of freedom. The age of misinformation, fake news, post truth, Trump and rampant opportunism proved an intoxicating blend. It was a warm stale can consumed during the dank, gloomy after-session Britain was jittering through following the chemically enhanced, momentary wonderment of pre-2008 capitalism. Where were we? And where are we now? The answers so hard to find with heavy eyes.
In a contemporary semi-working democracy, change breeds questions. Lots of them, regarding lots of people, many of whom don’t normally answer when asked, even at the most stable of times. In short, throughout the EU referendum, people provided simple answers and fled from the consequences. That’s all that needs to be said about the Brexit vote. The vote and Brexit itself are two individual facets unashamedly bound together with no real similarities. One did not sequentially give way to the other, yet this is the dichotomy that we follow. Our political system now suffers stalemate. Every MP is reluctant, undecided, unsure. Brexit is no enigma waiting to be cracked. It is not a stand-alone theme; it perforates every element of social existence. And while Westminster fails observe this, Parliament does not deserve our attention.
Brenda from Bristol. Do you recall her democratic anguish? She carried an exhaustion that has come to match once engaged and eager voters. You might have said she was apathetic as she was informed Britain would go to the polls for the third summer in a row in 2017. “Another one [election]. There’s just too much politics going on right now [sic],” she protested. But she’s partially right to decry the abundance of more-of-the-same politics. Apathy can be a sweet elixir, but we’re already suffering the hangover of a system sliding closer and close to a two-party showdown. A system blinkered by a fabricated future beyond EU membership. Both parties, splinter groups included.
We line the streets in our millions to no avail. We bring central London to a standstill, pondering the earth’s health and future. Nothing gives. No pressure is felt from the collective masses. We’ve stagnated towards the use-by date of our current political model. Yet it still sits there, waiting to be flogged to those who can see opportunity in the mess. Opportunities for the quick fix, the cheap sell. Another snap election? New promises and no answers.
Ultimately, centralised change is at a standstill until there’s a Brexit outcome agreed, or forcibly handed to us. It presents us with an unwelcome dose of apathy. But it also presents an opportunity. If participatory democracy persists in a cycle of same councillors, further local budgets slashed, same Conservative rule, same dirty election tactics, then the hope of shifting anywhere towards progressive socialism on a large scale remains withheld in textbooks. It won’t spread further than starry-eyed pre-drinking chat of students who’re eventually sanded into shape by the five-day week.
So the baton must be passed over to communities. It’s a stain on our democracy that it should be this way. Yet, it’s where real progress can take place in these circumstances, and has been doing so since it was declared there was “no such thing as society”. Contradictory as it may be with socialist logic – the people fending for each other while the elite squabble – affecting change by expanding from the local perspective cuts out a participatory, first past the post system that is close to defunct. By looking in we don’t simply become insular, isolationist, but perhaps more aware of what can be done with the resources that can be acquired until centralised support improves.
Speaking in Bido Lito! issue 97, when asked whether his band is a product or inspired by socio-political upheaval, Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson said: “We’re all involved in modern civilisation, and that’s dictated by those two factors. Everything is political these days.” This is the crux of the matter. Everything is political. Every action that informs, interacts, compels or welcomes a group is political. Moving away from the prism that politics is rosettes, ballot papers and policy frees up a wealth of invigoration at community level. People in Liverpool offering services to their neighbours, irrespective of party afflation, is inherently political. Actions should be conceived by those they affect while politics is deadlocked. Community enterprises provide us with a working method of sustaining social progression while centralised uncertainties loom large. It’s a model that is well established in Liverpool. Granby Four Streets Community Land Trust’s regeneration scheme in L8 is people powered and political in the most positive sense. Its ethos looks to transform the community buy pooling its creative assets, not simply writing cheques and paving over what already exists.
Kitty’s Launderette (via Twitter)
Further inspiration can be taken from Homebaked Anfield, a community bakery that’s inflicting change in the L4 postcode “one loaf at a time”. Similarly, the newly opened Kitty’s Launderette in Everton is not simply a place for an affordable wash, but somewhere that’ll enrich community focused ideas, business and welfare – emerging, collaboratively, from the ground up. There’s an expanse of activism running through the communities in Liverpool. Parties such as Sonic Yootha and SisBis are much needed if community cohesion transcends into political thought on a local level. Activism is a necessary cog in participatory democracy. And it can be enacted at a community arts space, café, or even by joining the collective movements of others at progressive club nights. It all transpires to enhance the belief in which progress can be achieved. Ultimately, it’s a renewable, clean means of generating hope.
This hope isn’t whimsical; it’s the fuel of community self-determination. A hope that social progress can be made in parallel to the influence of the established political model. When it’s recognised that community collaboration stretches further than tired single party-dominated politics, established practices ought to follow suit.
Establishing a community-driven model for change only works if communities do not become ring fenced. Boundaries help define where people can logistically pool together, but they cannot become exclusive. It has to remain an enterprise that finds reflections on a larger scale: interchangeable, open and accepting. Utopian? It has to be the aim while participatory democracy, in its current form, wastes vote after vote.
Self-determination of communities does not explicitly require separation. Difference has to be accepted, celebrated, channelled. Treating the population as an homogenous group disrespects the centuries of immigration that influences our culture. A community knows what’s best for itself, but all have to be open to collaboration. If not, cries of further devolution will quickly change to independence. And there’ll few reasonable arguments to say otherwise if we’re left looking at the same picture in 2028.