EMA and the crisis of democracy….
So, EMA has been scrapped. Sadly, not entirely unexpected. No doubt there will be bitter recriminations and rightfully so; both the government and the critics of EMA boarded the last train out of the real world some time ago. Tales of feckless students ‘living it large’ on a whopping £30 per week really sound as fantastical as they no doubt are. Obviously the people who make these bold claims simply don’t go out at all if they did, they would know that living the high life on £30 per week is pretty much impossible.
However, its now true that students have been subjected to the same treatment that is meted out to the socially excluded and marginalised more generally. A stereotype is created which has just enough purchase in reality (exceptions exist to every wild generalisation) to gain currency amoung the wider populace. This is then used as an excuse to beat you down, marginalise you and generally disenfranchise you. Your opinion doesnt count for much and nobody listens; then people act surprised and shocked when, having had enough, you start ‘acting-up’.
Democratically, however, this creates severe problems because representative democracy starts, slowly but surely, to become well errrr less representative. And this is what is happening now coupled with a slow-burning crisis of faith in the entire premise of the system. Of course, politicians don’t mind this as long as they can still get elected. However, they should beware because this disaffection, this crisis of faith, will result in a backlash. It’s only a matter of time. I call the tidal wave of sometimes highly irrational anger over the MP’s expenses system as my first witness that attests to this inevitability.
The government will only make this problem worse. This problem has always afflicted the poorest, most vulnerable in society who are made so partially by their lack of interested representation. Labour, incidentally, does nothing to change this; it’s as obsessed with the middle classes as the Clegg’s and Cameron’s of this world. However, this government is distant even from them and its not long before they will experience things that have previously been reserved for ‘benefit scroungers’. Soon, they will be as marginalised and demonised as the rest of us and then when that process if complete the crisis will reach tipping point. You can already see the beginnings of this in the fees debate (something that hits hard against aspirational middle class homes as it does poor, working class ones).
How can David Cameron and Nick Clegg even begin to comprehend the worries of the insecure middle classes let alone societies poorest? The simple answer is they cannot. They can talk the talk but never walk the walk. Similarly, Labour currently offers them nothing apart from cold comfort and deliberately vague and vacuous promises. It simply can’t provide a platform to ensure their stability because the social system can’t provide that anymore. Capitalism is cannibalising the middle classes and that presents a huge opportunity for the left.
We have a huge opportunity to reinvent democracy and in doing so society. This isn’t an abstract matter of aspiration but a necessity; we need a democracy that serves the interest of all the people and the only kind of democracy that does that is direct democracy. It’s not inevitable that the current crisis of representative democracy will resolve itself positively. Equally a possibility is that it can be resolved negatively as the tendency towards political nihilism by those dispossessed by this rotten system shows. The first step to winning this battle is not committing the cardinal sin of seeing everything as being economic and realising that the cuts agenda, the marginalisation of the unions, the debt panic are all part of a crisis of a wider crisis of democracy caused by an anti-democratic and barbaric capitalist system.