Monday, 7 May 2012

Apathy And Disengagement Versus Pragmatism: Labour Is The Only Way To Make Things Happen

If you live in Aycliffe and you’re fed up with the world as it is … join our facebook group!

The Newton Aycliffe Labour Group of Branches (NALGOB) has a facebook page.  Don’t get over-excited – we only have about half-a-dozen active participants – but we have some good discussions, and sometimes we have heated ones!

Chunkymark gets us arguing
Today I had a – shall we say lively – debate with a lady who is one of our most respected and thoughtful contributors.  I won’t give you her name, but let’s call her Joan.  She posted a YouTube video of someone called ‘chunkymark’ having a shout about politics-in-general and the Labour Party in particular.  Don’t watch the video if you’re offended by swearing.

Joan loved it. 
I thought it was awful.

Joan thought it summed up what was wrong with politics today. 
I agreed, but thought rather that if he wanted to improve things he would have done better to wash his mouth out and join the Labour Party to help change it from within.

Joan said that this was precisely the point – it was the system which was wrong, and to be part of it was to be part of the problem. 
I replied that – if our democracy is indeed failing to deliver – then the answer is not to disengage from the system but, like a marriage, to work harder at it to put it right.

Joan did not agree; the current system IS oppressive, we don’t live in a democracy, and we need to create a new way of politics, based on new values, a new way of being democratic that actually empowers people to take part, and be heard.

Disengagement only works in the abstract
Let’s get it straight from the start – Joan is NOT talking rubbish.  She is saying what many people in our society genuinely believe, and what many more probably feel to be the case without having fully articulated the thought. 
How many times have you heard ‘You’re all the same’ on the #LabourDoorstep?

My hairdresser told me the other day that all politicians were liars. 
But I am a politician, I reminded him – was he saying that I was a liar? 
He wouldn’t explicitly say that I was a liar, but neither would he back down.

Throughout the country there is a huge hostility towards politics and politicians, and it translates into apathy at the polls.
People really do believe that ‘the system’ is corrupt and rotten-beyond-retrieval, and that disengagement is not just understandable, it is necessary.

Do I have any answer for Joan?
Well, yes I do.
Because – whilst I appreciate many of the things she is saying – what I would argue is that (like my hairdresser) statements and beliefs like hers only work when they are kept abstract and theoretical.  As soon as you bring them down to actual organisations and actual people, they are far less true, and even downright libellous.

‘Elected representatives’ … or Phil Wilson?
What are we told about Parliament, for example?
* ‘Pigs’ with their snouts in the trough.
* ‘Posh boys’ who don’t know the price of milk. 
* Remote, inaccessible, out-of-touch.

But our MP is the excellent constituency MP Phil Wilson!
Anybody less ‘posh’ it is hard to imagine, although he is always very smart and polite. 
And as for ‘remote and inaccessible’, you can contact him by phone, by email, on twitter … and most Fridays you can go down to Aycliffe town centre and talk to him direct in his office.  You do not need to fume about Parliament and our laws … you can go and tell him and try to persuade him of what you are saying!  Phil will not always agree, but I have never known him not listen.  He has led campaigns about bad landlords, the north-east economy, Hitachi and many other things – you can go onto the internet and look up what he has said.  He is a good man and a caring MP.

When people talk in the abstract, it is easy to dismiss our elected representatives as crooks; but I doubt that Joan would – as she could if she had a mind – go down to his office and tell him so to his face.

And so you have to ask the question. 
How much is it that our democracy is remote, inaccessible and corrupt?  And how much is it that we have all simply become too lazy to be active within our democracy?

‘Useless liars’ … or John D Clare?
The point becomes even more forceful at local level. 
At Aycliffe level, ‘the democratic system’ which is supposed to be so corrupt and ineffectual is the Town Council.
And the Town Council is me and 29 other local people.  They have names.  Many are retired, but we have housewives, shop-assistants, tradesmen, teachers, chemical-workers, civil servants etc.  Many have spent a lifetime trying to serve the community, not just as Councillors, but as youth-club leaders, Community volunteers, Rotarians etc.
These people – of whom I am proud to be one – are the ‘system’ which, if we are to believe the rhetoric, is flawed beyond repair.

And so you have to ask the question.
How many of the people who write us off as useless have ever been to a town council meeting?  How many of them have a clue what we do, never mind how well we do it?

Getting involved

And even if it is true and we ARE all a bunch of self-serving gangsters – surely the solution is not to disengage and shout foul abuse from the sidelines.
It is easy enough to get involved.

There are two Labour Branches which meet every month.  I am in Aycliffe North-West Branch, which meets the fourth Thursday in every month at the Navy Club.
At every meeting, local Town and County Councillors give a report as a formal item on the agenda.
If you really want to change politics, all you need to do is to turn up at that meeting, and hold those councillors to account.

We have thousands of armchair pundits who – like ‘chunkymark’ – are very good at sitting on their proverbial and shouting about ‘what’s wrong with politics’ and politicians.
Well, maybe it’s time that they stopped shouting … when they could so easily be doing something.

Join the Labour Party and change our world.

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