‘Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” (Churchill in a House of Commons speech on Nov. 11, 1947)
“Democracy has to be enacted anew in every generation, in every year and day…that every generation has to be accomplish democracy over again for itself; that its very nature, its essence, is something that cannot be handed on from one person or one generation to another, but has to be worked out in terms of needs, problems and conditions of the social lie of which, as the years go by, we are a part.” (John Dewey)
Society is such a fragile thing, held together by so many thin, often unacknowledged, threads of agreement. Yet those thin threads ofagreement are there and they exist, spun from shared consent by the people of that society, they shape what we can and cannot do and mould the types of lives we will lead. If you look carefully, you can see a concentration of these threads billowing in the wind off the Thames in Westminster, they are sewn through our law-courts, schools, police stations and local council offices. Yet, if you manage to get hold of one and follow it all the way to its source you’ll see it exists because of us the ‘people’.
Every five years, we get to decide who should spin these threads and on what basis they should create them. You get to be part of that decision if you vote, if you don’t vote then you remove yourself, you deny yourself the right to help shape the society and environment that you live in. Churchill tells us democracy is the worst form of Government apart from all the other types. Our democracy is far from perfect, there are huge question marks over how representative it actually is and whether we can trust the politicians that make decisions on our behalf and whether they in fact care (don’t blindly believe what the media portrays, there are many MPs that do care). And yet, what is the alternative? What alternative form of government would you prefer? What is better than democracy where we all get to have some kind of input and the right to remove a government if it has not fufilled its promises? Your vote is one voice in the sound of the many, but the many is made up of millions of individual voices, add your voice and be part of the sound or be silent and be apart from it. If you think our democracy needs to be changed, then you need to be part of it to bring about the change.
John Dewy is asking the reader to realise that democracy is not an end and finished product, it has not been won as a god-given right, once and for all by our ancestors. It is a malleable and shape-shifting concept that exists according to the nature of the society it reflects. It only exists if people cause it to exist, democracy breaks down if people fail to enact it. The word ‘democracy’ is greek in origin meaning ‘the rule/power of the people’, if those people forget to rule or can’t be bothered to rule then it ceases to exist. In our democracy we show our rule by voting for our representatives, so if we don’t vote we inadvertently contribute to the death of democracy, and perhaps as a result, encourage the emergence of less favourable forms of government.
Politics whether you hate it or love it, really does effect your life and the type of life you choose to lead. The fact I’ve had an education, been to university (leaving me with a sizeable loan to pay back), pay £3.20 to travel into work on the tube, pay VAT on every item I buy, can go to the doctors free of charge when I’m ill, whether the energy I use to heat up my porridge in the morning is renewable or not, the destination of my rubbish, the information the Government is allowed to have about me, being able to believe and freely talk about what I believe, owning a dog, walking down the street and feeling safe, all of these (to name but a few) and the many other parts of my daily life can be traced back to political decisions made on my behalf.
If you tell me your not interested in politics, I don’t believe you, its kind of the same as saying your not interested in your own life. I believe you perhaps have never really considered the effect that politics has or made the connection between the thing your passionate about and how political decisions have and will impact on that. You might not believe in the type of politics we have or the politicians who enact it for us, but unless the people decide to change it, this is the system we have and they will still continue to make decisions about your life on your behalf even if you don’t vote. Therefore, vote for the present and have some kind of say in the society you live in now, otherwise you might find that decisions are made about your life that you have had absolutely no input into and any complaints you might have about those decisions are unfounded if you were never willing to have your say about them in the first place.
This is all very easy for me to say, I work in the world of politics now and so have had to become interested in it. There was a time when I didn’t know much at all and as a result had a remote, occasional interest. When I started my current job, I was in a talk and this line stuck with me, “first you have to understand how politics works, then you will value you it and only then be able to take ownership of it”. We have to take responsibility for our own knowledge and understanding, if you don’t understand how our political system works or what the different parties stand for, find out. Nowadays, are so many sources of information and once you understand it, naturally you will find yourself becoming interested in it. There have been real efforts to demystify political jargon and to provide information simply and there are plans to take this further, to make democracy digital and accessible. There is still some way to go, especially in how we educate young people about citizenship and politics but the foundations are being laid and the information is there if you look for it.
Some people argue that the main political parties have become too centralised and essentially stand for the same thing…perhaps but there are important subtle differences in them, and if you are not happy with what the political parties are offering, enact democracy and start your own… With a few days to go until the election, I still don’t know who I’m going to vote for. It is not too late, if you still don’t’ have a clue, here are some good resources to find out more and start understanding so that you can choose and be part of our democracy.
Confused? Want to know more? Look below
How does our voting system, First Past the Post work, how will your vote count, what happens on Election Day? Watch here
Yeah…but who should I vote for? Find out what the parties actually stand for in certain areas try this
Fine, but I don’ t know who I would choose, take a survey/quiz to find out which party your values match up with.
All of these political parties and candidates are saying they will do all this stuff but how do I know if they will or not. Explore, what politicians have actually done as opposed to what they’ve said they will do and create your own government.
Ok, so I have a better idea of which party I prefer but I don’t know what constituency I belong to, find out
What are the candidates in my local area actually standing for, what do they believe, what will they do for my area? Democracy Club brings all kinds of information together about the candidates in your area, what their campaign leaflets say, their cvs, what they stand for, who the candidates actually are etc.
Everyone on the news seems to be predicting it will be another coalition government, what does this mean and what kind of coalition might it be. Create your own coalition to learn more about what will and will not work.
Best of the rest, clear and easy to follow information about anything politics or election related…
Free Speech (lots of great politically themed programs aimed at young people)
Parliament’s Education Service (loads of useful learning resources)
More reasons to vote, read my earlier post in this series, Why should you vote?- because of the past.
The last two photos (with some added text by me) are courtesy of death to stock photography