The marginalisation of dissent and the #UKRiots….
Harriet Harman was a credit to the Labour Party last night on Newsnight. She was a credit because she did her job, she asked questions about the causes of the riots, rather trotted out cliches. This is what a alleged representative of the people should be doing and it’s what we pay them to do. Michael Gove however, represented all that was wrong in society with his authoritarian and illiterate hectoring of Harman. He showed he can’t even understand the completely different meanings of two English words – “explain” and “excuse” yet alone begin to be a functional representative of the people. Here we see one method of authoritarian control – the tyranny of ‘manners’ and excluding peoples views by deeming them ‘inappropriate’. However, she was so by wandering a little from the well-trodden Party line.
I don’t want to talk about the socio-economic causes of the riots in this post but equally I want to make it clear what I am about to say doesn’t detract from the legitimacy of those causes. It does however relate, because the more uneven and undemocratic wealth distribution is, the more undemocratic a society is likely to be and the more authoritarian a culture is likely to be. This has shone through in our responses to the riots, so different to that of Norway to its trauma, the state is largely responsible for this but we also sometimes encourage it. How people can call for the Army on the streets and maintain the veneer of being rational is beyond me – in fact, a quick study of Twitter and the hashtags associated with the riots shows it is not just the rioters that lost the capacity too reason and think straight, but also significant sections of the Twitterati as well (the big clue to this was the invention of riots that did not exist).
In terms of state policy, we have to be honest – the rot really started with us, with Labour in government, and the raft of anti-terror legislation following the inception of the ‘War on Terror’, but it has continued through this government. How many of you are willing to bet against, for example, some of the rioters having been involved in the fees protests, the same ones that the police brutalised and kettled? The actions and attitude of the police too these protests, the policies that provoked them are all part of a tapestry of a system in decay.
Tomorrow, when Parliament meets we will see this decay in full evidence when it will meet, condemn the rioters but very few, if any, will say anything about what may have caused the riots, other than descend into metaphysics of ‘good’ and ‘evil’. In it’s lack of functionality, and widely perceived corrupt nature, Parliament is becoming a body that many find unrepresentative and disconnected from their daily lives and that is dangerous, to be blunt, not something to celebrate.
Dissenting views are increasingly frowned upon and excluded as a potentially hostile and suspicious ‘other’ and political parties are increasingly monochrome with rigid and unbending fidelity to ‘party lines’ demanded. Furthermore, Parliament has been unresponsive to peaceful protest, even mass protest, for some time. We, in government, blatantly ignored millions of peaceful protesters over the Iraq War, for example. All of this pushes people away, and it pushes them towards the view that extreme actions are the only ones that get noticed. Indeed, as I blogged yesterday, one rioter actually pretty much said this when he mentioned having previously been on a peaceful protest.
We talk about giving the disaffected an economic stake in society. I agree, we must, BUT we must also reverse the increasing trend to authoritarianism in our society, we must give them a democratic stake too and that means far-reaching changes to Parliament, the police, the economy, the media and every institution that has failed in its democratic duties because it represents the vested interests of social elites. It means putting democracy at the core of our programme of social transformation, which, after-all is where it should always be and should have been.