I am increasingly taken with need to reclaim politics from politicians and the Party Political process. If politics is ‘…the process of making decisions applying to all members of each group…’ what we have allowed is a small group to ignore the fact that most of us are constantly engaged in the process and for them to make the decisions on our behalf. My initial experiences with Frome Town Council were exactly that – a small, unrepresentative (largely unelected) group who made key decisions that affected many of us, driven by ideologies not based in this community.
Over the last 6 years we have worked to change that relationship and reposition councillors and civil servants as part of a network of actors within the community. At a town level this has contributed to our becoming a much more resilient community – stronger economically and in many aspects of wellbeing. The opening of the Town’s Hall in a few weeks, as a nexus for community cohesion, has the potential to further redefining the role of council and councillors (politicians) – it should further help burst the bubble in which we still sometimes sit.
My experience of 17 independent councillors, working in a common direction, increasingly integrated into the community, is that shared ownership of decision making processes – sharing politics – results in greater outcomes and overall wellbeing.
At a national and international level reclaiming wide ownership of politics may have a much more fundamental role. Robert Eaglestone (speaking about 10 minutes into Melvyn Bragg’s Radio 4 ‘In our Time’ this morning) described Hannah Arendt’s views “…totalitarianism arises when people are disconnected and when social bonds aren’t as strong…. a movement or strong man arises and offers a story, an ideology, which claims to explain why people are unhappy …and that story becomes more powerful…” Arendt (a survivor of the holocaust) concluded that if people are contradicting each other in civic engagement, and articulating their disagreement this creates a strong civic culture and respect for others and prevents totalitarianism. The Party Political system polarises disagreement into conflict between Parties, rather than allowing public disagreement.
The scenario Hannah Arendt describes in which totalitarianism ferments is alive today. What we have seen recently is false use of populism (‘support for the concerns of ordinary people’) imposed on democratic systems easily manipulated because they are chronically out of date….. the end result (in America) feels horribly close to totalitarianism. To counter this we need a reclaiming of politics. Zoe Williams ends her article yesterday “…..perhaps Arendt’s most profound legacy is in establishing that one has to consider oneself political as part of the human condition….”. I absolutely agree – but would add that we then need to move aside those who claim the monopoly on political decisions.