The UK government is a disaster right now. Brexit has brought out the worst in so many and we are currently mired in lies, scandals and confusion as our government muddles through what will likely be the most significant constitutional crisis of my lifetime. For the most part, this government just seems incompetent, unable to negotiate, organise, communicate or collaborate in any meaningful way. But the past few weeks have highlighted the uglier side of our leadership, through Johnson’s lies, selfishness and shamelessly autocratic decisions. Regardless of your political sensibilities, it doesn’t look good.
Everyone involved appears to be grasping at straws, so paralysed by Brexit that they are unable to fight Brexit, meaning that, three years after the referendum, we are still barrelling toward the exit date with no plan or deal in sight. There will likely be a snap election in the next few weeks, and, while I would vote for whoever offered the best chance of avoiding a hard no deal Brexit (or, ideally, Brexit at all), I can’t say I have been particularly inspired by anyone in Westminster recently.
This is a problem. Partly because political engagement depends on candidates that inspire people to mobilise, but mainly because it’s easy for distrust in a government to become distrust in the government as a whole. The more I read and learn about the USSR, the more I understand why so many people became loyal supporters of capitalism. When you have only seen things play out one way, it’s hard to keep the other possibilities in mind. It’s easier to just run in the other direction.
I don’t want this episode of incompetence to make people feel that no government could act in their best interests. That kind of thinking plays right into the strategies of the anti-left and the anti-socialists, who want to minimise the involvement of governments in people’s lives. This means placing more power in the hands of the private sector, which, if the past century of staunch capitalism is anything to go by, tends to shaft ordinary workers and pad executive wallets. It’s easy to believe that the free market will reward people according to their skills and hard work but that is plainly untrue in practice. Especially now, when working at one company for life is basically obsolete, corporations have little incentive to give up profits in favour of increasing an employee’s quality of life, hence the rise of zero hour contracts, stagnating wages and longer hours. In theory, the government has the potential to prioritise something other than the corporate bottom line, in a way that individual companies will never feel compelled to behave. In order to address inequality and climate change, which, I feel, are the two big issues of our time, we need governments to step up and take charge, by directing our power and economy toward a more sustainable society in every sense.
But our governments have to hold up their end of the bargain. If our leaders prove themselves incapable of managing our money and societies to the benefit of anyone but themselves, of course people will lose faith in the country’s management and feel disinclined to give it any more authority. The great irony is that this works to the advantage of the country’s most privileged, many of whom are occupying the offices responsible for our current political crisis. I do believe that an increase in state involvement and social safety nets would improve the lives of most people. We only have to look across the pond to America to see what the lives of normal people look like in a country with no mandated maternity leave, no state healthcare system and minimal worker protections. It’s not good. People are drowning under medical debt, back at work two weeks after giving birth and crushed by skyrocketing student loans. I don’t want to live somewhere like that! It sounds like a terrible place to be a person.
It’s a two-way street, right? We need to trust our governments and vote for them to have more money and authority if we want to see our public services funded adequately, if not for us then for the millions of people who depend on welfare provisions to survive. But when you have a government that fucks things up as much as our current leaders do, it’s hard to want to give this group any more influence than they currently have.
The involvement of states in people’s lives is the most enormous topic, one I fully admit I don’t know enough about. This blog isn’t supposed to be a comprehensive analysis of our political system and the various ways national governance and individual lives intersect. No, these are just my observations, and watching British politics recently makes me worried about how many people will shun left-wing parties that lobby for the government to have more authority or not vote at all. If there’s a real fear things will be this bad, no wonder people are anxious about granting the government more influence over the systems that govern most people’s lives.
But we need coordination above the individual level. This is the main struggle we face when trying to address climate change: individuals can only do so much. What we really need are people with influence over a significant number of individuals to mandate or incentivise structural changes that make people’s lives better, tackle rising inequality and confront the climate crisis. We just need to remember that governments are just made up of individuals and as those individuals change the essence of our leadership will change too. A few decades from now, we will be familiar with a host of new political voices, who hopefully will be smarter, more selfless and more effective than many of our current MPs. We need to trust that it’s possible to be governed by people who are truly looking to make people’s lives better – and to then use our votes to make those governments a reality.