Have we forgotten ‘each other’ in today’s politics?
Imagine for a second that you didn’t know your position in society. You didn’t know whether you were a man or woman, your age,what you did or earnt for a living, whether you were in good or poor health. What kind of society would you want to live in?
It is this sort of reasoning that seems to be lost in modern politics. Political parties treat most voters as self-serving — its all about your taxes, your school, your cost of living — why do we never use the word our? The average voter is characterised as caring more about their own fuel bill than the state of care for older people unless of course they happen to be old. And it has become self-fulfilling; pollsters seems to confirm that people are concerned with what benefits them in their current position.
But this is not how most people actually behave on a day to day basis. We help out our friends, family and we often we extend this to our local community. Maybe it’s a local child’s family who can’t afford a particular kind of cancer treatment or a couple who have just moved in down the road fleeing persecution in a far away land who have no furniture. If we hear about it and we are able, we help.
Of course we can’t possibly extend a helping hand to everyone in need, it would be overwhelming. It’s why some days we turn off the news, it’s just too much. Sometimes we can’t help at all because we are too busy or stretched or in difficulty ourselves, and that’s where being part of a greater whole comes in. This is what our politics should be about; about how we live together, about how we want ourselves and others to be treated if we run into problems. Our common sense, decency and empathy are our best guides.
Right now the problem is that no party works out its agenda on this basis. Instead the visions pit individual groups against one another. Left and right are both guilty. It is the fault the poor that they are in the situation they are in, they should sort themselves out. It is the fault of the bankers, they caused the financial crisis and they should be brought down to size. What would happen if we stopped all this for just a second to ask — what can we collectively do to make this country the one we all want to live in?
Some will say that philanthropy not government is the answer. They will argue that if they are allowed to keep more of their own wealth they can help others better than the state ever could. But if they were theoretically blindfolded and didn’t know their place in society would they really take the risk of leaving their wellbeing in a crisis up to a benefactor?
If we apply the blindfold of who we are to UK politics what might this mean? We might start by looking at what the things we value for ourselves and for those we directly care about. Would be willing to take the chance that these things would not be provided to us. In many ways it is about sharing risk and the economic sense of doing things at scale collectively rather than individually. .
In a politics that is led by fear the thing I fear the most is the path of ruthless individualism? If we are not careful we find ourselves back in the realms of Oliver Twist, one boy rescued the rest left in the poorhouse. There will always a tale of hope to make us feel like this can work, the tale of the person who makes it against the odds. Across the pond its called the American dream but its rarely the American reality, I wonder what we’d call it here?
I wrote this piece a few months before the 2015 UK election. I’ve been nervous about putting my thoughts out there but now seems the right time and this piece seems just as relevant as it was then both in the context of the budget where the narrative was about pitting groups against each other as winners and losers but more so perhaps with the unfolding events in Greece where common cause with the Greek people has been pretty lacking.