a blog post that has more to do with politics than druidry – but everything is connected.
Every version of Utopia I’ve ever read has filled me with despair – and I write this as a political idealist with a lifelong love of William Morris. Even in druid circles, I sometimes come across wistful visions of a better time, when kings were just and their advisers wise. Some people locate this lost Utopia in history – in the Wales of Hywel Dda, or in Dark Age England; others seem content to leave it as a dream. The idea of “philosopher kings” is nothing new; Plato posited the possibility in his Republic. It went hand-in-hand with strict segregation of the classes and state-controlled procreation.
I am something of an anarchist at heart, a Green-tinged political lefty with my roots in the socialism of the South Wales collieries and my independent heart set on self-determination. I recognise the deep corruption riddling our current system – but I also think this system is the best we’ve ever had. Stay with me, folks…
Some years ago, I found myself working in the Houses of Parliament, in the least political of roles: I was a Visitor Assistant, and my job was to tell people the story of our Parliament, let them know their political rights, and help them to access the system by watching debates and lobbying MPs and Peers. It always amazes me that so few people are aware of their political rights; even fewer exercise them. On hearing of my job, my friends’ reactions – “oh no, you’re not working for them, are you?” – surprised me. These were intelligent, engaged, educated people who had failed to grasp the single most important thing about our system: the distinction between Government (“them”) and Parliament (the people tasked with keeping them in check). As the months passed, my experience at work had a completely unanticipated effect on my own ideas about politics: I gained a newfound respect for most (though by no means all) MPs, and an equal but opposite cynicism with regard to the media. I came to see first-hand how little of what actually happened got reported in the news; I had a clear view of how the media phrased stories to engender rage, or helplessness, or whatever the desired effect was, according to their own agenda. Some (perhaps even most, though by no means all) MPs, meanwhile, worked tirelessly both in and out of Westminster; the very best of them were approachable, humble and deeply immersed in their local community. Political allegiance came to matter less to me than the quality of the elected representative.
Our system is far from perfect. This Government has undone a huge amount of the good work carried out by past administrations, helped in no small part by the media. People still rally to oppose the worst of it – but increasingly I see anger being vented and fairly effectively dissipated online, for the most part (in my social circle, at least) by people who have never been to lobby their MP, never sat in on a debate in Westminster, never read the transcripts of the debates which affect them most, never attended their MPs’ constituency surgeries. Only when all of these measures have been tried and proven to be useless will I concede that our system is broken. It is not broken; we are just not using it effectively.
The system does not work for us. Of course it doesn’t: the system has no agency. We are the ones who have to make it work. Sure, there is far too much privilege in politics; ‘twas ever thus. But, comrades, ye are many, they are few. Our system is in fact designed to protect us from the influence of privilege, if only we remember how to use it. Rather than trying to forge new tools, with no idea of what their shape should be, let us pick up the tools we had forgotten; let us sharpen them, and bring them to bear once more on this mother of Parliaments, whose very purpose is to hold the Government to account in the interests of the people.