Thursday, November 10, 2016

Post-vote protests

So, just like the EU Referendum, the US Presidential election has sprung a surprise that turns to to be rather less surprising when you think about it. There are protests in the streets and long hours of news programming asking questions and dissecting the data.

Whether these two events demonstrate some major shift in politics is yet to be seen. For some this is the ultimate expression of democracy and I've even heard it said that these two results are in fact a victory for democracy. I reserve judgement on that.

The problem for me is that history might well point to an inevitability about both polls, but as to their representation of democracy, well that's another matter. What we have seen clearly demonstrated through these events has seemed at times to be more like the dumbing down of democracy to the lowest common denominator. Playing on people's most basic fears and anxieties, stirring up concern where none existed, demonising those with whom we disagree, and downright lies masquerading as misquotations and slight exaggerations of the truth. No, I'm not so sure it's been a great year for democracy.

We need to remember that democracy is about having a voice, not just getting your way. This seems to have ben forgotten when we hear the winners telling the losers to shut up and get on with it. Stop whinging perhaps, but never stop making the counter argument. I was listening to Tim Farron the other day, and without putting words into his mouth, his argument post-leave was to reinforce this very point that while we are set to leave the EU there's still a pro-European argument to be made. The same is true post-Trump (although in an English culture that usually involves an apology, quiet look of embarrassment or an attempt to blame the dog!). Those who are protesting now and who feel let down by the wider population need to keep working to hold their elected officials to account.

The political establishment needs also to take note of the disaffection and dissatisfaction that continues to grow. They can no longer act and work in the same old ways. Politicians are never going to get it right for everyone. They know that. We know that (although sometimes both sides forget it). Helping people understand that being listened to is not ultimately expressed in doing what they say, but balancing all points of view and then acting in the best interests of the nation.

I hope that democracy learns from this year of upsets, if two votes can count as defining a year. I hope the process learns about the negative outcome of manipulation, threats and sound-bite politics. I hope we begin to become more engaged in the process of discussion and debate, honest praising of things done well and thoughtful criticism and challenge of those things that are not so good.

Only a small percentage of people vote ideologically, the rest vote according to how they feel at a given moment. We need to make sure that when they do, they are as well informed as they could possibly be.

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