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The Waiting Game: UK Election Result is Inevitable 

These are strange times. Parliament is doddering towards the terminus of its five-year life cycle. An election is coming. Every government posture, every opposition stunt, is now judged as part of some masterminded strategy. The polls, at least an average of them, tell us that Labour have enjoyed a near twenty point lead since December 2022.  You don’t have to be a politico to figure out what happens next. 

But that is what is so odd. The inevitability, set against the intransigence, of this moment. The fact that everything, seemingly, points in one direction. Yet the resolution of every trend that makes so many loathe this sorry lot in power is as yet frustrated. A government limps on, occupying Downing Street, whilst the country grows increasingly frustrated. And yes, many grow more listless. 

We are left to wait. Denied and frustrated. And that feeling I think has shot through life, public and private. Throughout 2024, we have felt disempowered. Waiting for things to get better. We are made to stand still as the world spins out of control. Prisoners to a paralysed government. The party in power hopes we develop Stockholm Syndrome. Trains cancelled, hospital beds in corridors, schools falling apart. Uncertainty has been the only constant in a country beleaguered by helplessness. It no longer feels for many as if they are actors in the world. 

So how will we describe this moment, looking backwards? That short prelude to the Labour Party’s triumphant coronation? Or will we gain a new respect for an underappreciated premier taking tough decisions in tough times? 

Certainly not the second one. Rishi Sunak is no John Major. 

Instead, we should dwell on all this waiting and ask what for? I find it exposes our democracy’s poverty. The separation between people and power is far greater now than their sometimes awkward melding in ‘democracy.’ 

Because democracy cannot be reduced to simply casting a ballot. Let alone every five years. What we have is a sham. Where we are consulted episodically in manageable doses; with each consultation licensing, through the alchemy of the so-called ‘mandate,’ ‘elective dictatorship.’ Governments have convinced us that voting for their MPs entitles them to do as they wish. Paeans to a time when we voted for men (inevitably so) of virtue who held popular sovereignty in their trust are no longer appropriate. Particularly given our present stock of politicians. 

Instead today, when we endow every person with an equal worthiness – at least theoretically, if democracy is to mean something it is enthusiastic consent, proper self-rule, and non-domination – ensuring no one is so totally trod upon by others held irresponsible and irreproachable. What this moment reveals is our lack thereof. 

Think back just to the beginning of this parliament. Since 2019, we can all list the things that come so easily to an excuse-searching government: the pandemic, Ukraine, global instability, China. Since the last election, a tenth of the Conservative electorate has died. Just in this past year, generative AI has burst onto the scene – realising in new ways awesome computational power. 

All this churn, and yet we are unable to get our politics to respond. We are rudderless as a country. The government lurches from one hobby horse to another, itching to start another restart, unmoored from any guiding principle. This absence of leadership in a democracy ought to be filled by popular ideas. Yet we have no formal right of initiative, outside of the flimsy petition process. Citizens cannot exercise agenda setting power in Westminster, particularly between elections. Unless a paper picks up a cause - as with the Sunday Times and cladding for instance, good luck getting Westminster to take your movement seriously. 

Then there is the professionalisation of politics. Modernity has brought highly specialised societies. Most people do not grow their own food, they rely on farmers and grocers. Similarly, we have a professional political class wielding the state on behalf (in principle) of us, the citizens. Complete reliance on this representative mechanism means citizens have no right of participation in much political decision-making. One might say this is the point of representative democracy. I agree. But representation is not good enough where more active participation might properly empower people as citizens. Hermetically sealed off representatives cannot be left to run away with their own pet issues, irresponsive to their constituents. Talismanic of this is the ‘small boats’ imbroglio. 

But these cunning incompetents do not just run with the grain of our politics, they innovate impediments to democratic action too. Consider the renewed panic about protest. The drumbeat of proposals, speeches, reports that have followed the weekly marches for Palestine. Proscribe them. Ban parties from meeting them. Show an ID to enter parliament. The Woodcock review. And so on. Too many politicians are all too eager to further crimp our democracy, to further insulate themselves. 

Say you do get a hearing though. Change is deferred and denied, made to wait, by one quick ideological trick. Anyone brave enough to pose even the slightest thoughtful reform, leaving aside those who dare to dream up utopias, faces the devastating question – how are you going to pay for it? Is it fully costed? Have you got the IFS and OBR on board? A logical fallacy is at play here. If we are perennially limited to our current level of resources, then we can never grow. I bring this up to point out the contours of our political setup that so narrow the scope for democratic action, meaningful reform, and creative thinking. 

The status quo demands that we ask out of deference for its permission to achieve change. This conservative instinct is hardly new. Many will deploy the truisms that you cannot get what you always want, that the young are always frustrated, or that yes you must wait and be patient. Yet something about this moment seems so forlorn, so lacking hope. we truly live in Mark Fisher’s world. Give me capitalism or death. Even Keir Starmer has cottoned onto this; that the Tories’ biggest achievement has been their robbing of hope, the very possibility of change. 

Set against the crises we face, this is not good enough. The slogan of waiting for the plan to work deludes us about there being a plan. If our mounting challenges are racing away from our politics, while our politicians beseech us to wait, we have no hope of meeting them. 

Image: Descrier

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