CROYDON COMMENTARY: Next May, JON BIGGER will be standing for election as a candidate for Class War, an avowedly anarchistic group. In part, as he explains here, his reasons for doing so are the despair at the way we are all ill-served by our democratic system
As far as I’m concerned, democracy is about participation.
By that, I mean people actually doing things in agreement with others. Our system of liberal democracy is something of a misnomer, as it resembles the ancient Roman Republic far more than it does the democracy of ancient Athens. In Athens, the joining of the two words demos (people) and kratos (power) resonated in the hearts of people wanting freedom. As it still does.
This week’s local elections in Croydon seem three thousand years away from people power. It’s likely that fewer than 4 in 10 of those able to vote in the elections across England will use their votes in the local elections. For many, it will be a wasted trip to the polling booth.
The likelihood that you will vote for the candidate(s) that win is pretty slim. Our first-past-the-post system means that most of us vote for a loser and end up being represented by people elected by a minority. They get in simply because they are the largest minority.
Those elected as local councillors may go to the Town Hall intending to fight our corner and change the borough for the better. But it will not be long before they realise that the agency they have within local government is minimal. The good ones might try to buck the trend. The bad ones probably never had any intention of doing anything other than play the game in the first place.
I am frustrated by the choice on offer in this election and the policies of the candidates. It didn’t surprise me, but so many candidates seem to fit the corporate political model even at a local level. Those in the three main parties don’t want to rock the boat. Becoming a councillor can be the first step in a political career, so they toe the line, they look the part and they fit in. As a result we get bland promises and a lack of vision, because to be bold and to run with fresh ideas is a huge risk.
Before election day, they have constrained themselves because they fear their party hierarchy and they fear looking stupid in the media. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to UKIP, whose candidates can’t seem to help looking like bigoted imbeciles.
Westminster has steadily stripped local government of its power. Councils have less to do and less money to do it with. The main parties at a national level dictate local priorities, so we have a situation where candidates and councillors are constantly thinking of the power above them as they attempt to exercise the limited power that they have. The result is a stifling of debate within narrow confines and councils that cannot challenge the status quo.
Imagine being able to participate more. Imagine if that participation yielded results. Local politics should be vibrant and exciting. It should matter because it produces results that affect our communities. It should offer solutions to the problems of society.
Imagine a council doing exactly that. If a council stood up for its residents and told Westminster it was not going to accept budget cuts what would happen? Liverpool City Council recently declared that it wouldn’t be involved with the Government’s workfare scheme, where the unemployed are forced to work for their benefits.
Local government can be something more than just administrative. It can set the agenda. It can pressure and lobby. It can inspire debate about national issues affecting local people. It could (if it chose to) mobilise people to take political action. I would like politics to go much further than this, so that one day we don’t need representatives, because we have direct participation and delegates who do exactly what we want them to or else they are replaced.
Unfortunately, we are far from that ideal and I fear we will suffer the corporate, stifling charade that passes as politics for many years to come. At a local level, that means more banal leaflets about litter and graffiti and more game-players looking to get recognised by their party hierarchies. We deserve better and we should demand it.
Inside Croydon’s recent coverage of the local elections:
- Policy analysis 1: The incinerator
- Policy analysis 2: Hammersfield
- Tories accused of ‘lies on a grand scale’ on Council Tax
- ADDISCOMBE: Labour looking vulnerable to Barwell’s push
- Polls predict Croydon Council will be split down the middle
- Council CEO parrots Tory party line in official press releases
- Conservatives snub hustings as sham candidates exposed
- Threat of UKIP forces Tories to press the panic button
- Council allowances and local politicians’ secret consensus
- The list of candidates for the May 22 local elections
Coming to Croydon
- St Giles’ primary school open morning, May 21
- David Lean Cinema: The Rocket, May 22
- Songs From The Ledge, Spread Eagle Theatre, May 23
- Greek Myths: stories and mask-making, May 27
- Howard Marks: Scholar, Smuggler, Prisoner, Scribe, May 29
- David Lean Cinema: Dallas Buyers Club, May 29
- Tales from Ancient Greece, Upper Norwood Library, May 29
- Upper Norwood Library Book Club, May 31
- Stitch Pitch quilting workshop, Upper Norwood Library, June 2
- Croydon Tech City “summit”, June 6
- An Improvised Murder, Spread Eagle Theatre, June 7
- Lakes Playground Action Group fun day, June 14
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, June 15
- Norwood Society Talk: The Concrete Church, June 19
- Classic Car Show at Purley Rotary Fields, June 22
- Crystal Palace Overground Festival, June 26-29
- Warnings to the Curious, Spread Eagle Theatre, June 27
- South Norwood Allotments open day, June 28
- Fragile, Spread Eagle Theatre, July 24-26
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, Aug 10
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
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