Are we wired into the wider world? Do the council elections have anything to do with the US Presidential elections or with Brexit? Has what we have seen with these offer cues and clues for us? I say maybe.
First, both have seen grass roots and heartland opinion being expressed at the establishment. ‘Enough is enough’ they are saying. Democracy, government and its policy decisions are for everyone; and to serve everyone because we all pay for it directly and indirectly. Enough is enough of bending over for lobby groups, self-interested “smart people”, with connections. In Brexit it was seen with London v Provincial areas. In the US, as Senator Elizabeth Warren has said, there is a “rigged” Washington lobby system. People want democracy and government back.
Secondly, both at the Republican Convention and in the Brexit campaign, emotional spin has “Trumped” the day. I have seen in Court this year feelings becoming facts, assumptions leading to misperceptions, and what is felt becomes a “truth”. Totally contrary to justice: it is not principled; it’s the road to prejudice. Spin has its origins in the puffery of sales and marketing. The ploy is ‘to game’ our emotions into “buying.” One of our mayoral candidates is already pushing those buttons, which when looked at in fact are inconsistent and contradictory. Will you buy it?
John Oliver on HBO’s Last Week Tonight (24 July 2016) shows that US politicians at the Republican Convention were at emotional play and gaming the voters. “Feelings” about the economy blitzed any rational discussion on facts, numbers and causes. “What the F– -” said Mr Oliver, adding economics is not about feelings: it’s about hard data. That spin and its feelings could launch a nuclear arsenal is horrifying.
Democracy is based on disagreement: It thrives on disagreement and the media makes that public. Because informed debate is made up of different points of view. That is the nature of political reality and our legal system. Both are at risk of being gamed by unprincipled spin, Schlockmeiester practioners, instant emotional gratification. The buyer’s price is loss of integrity, trust, confidence lost and the risk of social protest and unrest. Sales’ history for emotions is not actual social and political history of people’s lives and economic well-being.
Disagreement looks at facts, the effects of policy and throws up other policy options: to get the maximum outcome for the maximum number. Public policy is utilitarian: thus democratic.
Brexit and the US Presidential election tell us that spin and its emotional drivers betray democracy and its bodies, and at the end of it, all of us. The media let us down. It has been sucked into mining social media for sound bites from Twitter and Facebook.
Our local politics have seen some of this in the theatre debate. The discussions have not interfaced. There were two discussions passing over each other : one emotional on the thing itself; the other on the process- how a private matter becomes a governmental and rate payer one- and the fix up. Emotional appeal and spin hit the fact of ‘money’. Money, operating cost, funding debt as a policy (to the next generation?) were half debated before council. Irrespective of the theatre’s merits or demerits once a public local governmental matter it needed to air concerns of ratepayers: no tax without representation.
The council is not an ATM machine; it is not for some but all. This period of elections requires discussion, principles and participation. The heartland of voters needs to take back democracy to re calibrate policy. The reaction against self-interest and the smart establishment by those upset with it- is to value representation and accountability and to revel in democracy.
14 August 2016
Disclosure of Interest: I am a candidate for the forthcoming council elections standing for the Blenheim Ward as an independent candidate.