January 11, 2011 by Rhi
I’m warning you now – this is about politics. And I know not everyone likes politics. But this is really important, believe me. And if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t really pay much attention to these things, then you’re EXACTLY who this is aimed at. Because if you live in the UK, you are part of this democracy, and at the moment, there’s a very real chance that whilst you’re thinking this has nothing to do with you, someone out there is speaking on your behalf without checking first that it’s what you want them to say. And these people are holding an increasing amount of power in politics, without anyone ever having cast a vote in their direction. The currency of their right to represent is the number of hits of their blog, and the number of followers they have on twitter.
I’ve spent today re-engaging with politics, and it’s been illuminating. In some ways, perhaps it provides a small victory for the NetrootsUK event, which took place at the weekend.
The key point of Netroots, was to try and mobilise those on the left of the coalition government, to try and consolidate the views held there, and try and find a way to make those views heard in a meaningful way. It consisted of a number of session, and one which has come to my attention was entitled “How can women get engaged online?”. One of the organisers has admitted it was a clunky title (my intial reaction was, surely they join a dating site…), but the thrust behind it was to debate equality in the sphere of political blogs, and how to encourage women to involve themselves in the online debate of the current political situation.
I’ve read conflicting reports of the success of group discussion. The organiser, Sunny Hundal, expresses his view on the discussion here. The post is a response to discussion by some participants, which have been thoughtfully collated here, by Lisa Ansell, a feminist blogger and friend of mine.
If the thought of wading through all that polemic makes your eyelids heavy, the disagreement in a nutshell is this: the group gathered to discuss why women aren’t engaged in online political discussion was a group of women who are (yep, you guessed it) engaged in political discussion. The overwhelming feeling that appears to have come from the hours of discussion was that what discourages women from feeling they are being heard, is being shouted down by male participants who resort to belittling language and misogynistic attitudes to stifle debate. Hundal, in response to hearing the debate, and talking to some participants, expressed an opinion that the discussion had therefore been less than useful, and that a chance had been missed to make a different to female participation in online discourse. It’s not surprising to learn that those who felt the discussion had highlighted important issues took this as confirmation of their views – as a male, Hundal had simply dismissed their hours of consideration as being incompatible with his own ideas as to how the left should progress in opposition to the current coalition government. I can’t comment on what was said, I wasn’t there, but apparently things will become clear when a video of the event is released soon.
Still with me? Good HERE’S THE IMPORTANT BIT
I came across all this by accident, because I know Lisa Ansell of old. I met her on a website we both use to frequent, populated almost exclusively by women. She has experience of what life is like at the sharp end of social deprivation, through her work as a social worker, and through living in the North of England. She often comes across as angry, but for good reason. She’s passionate about what she believes in, because at the heart of her argument is the truth of the situation. I trust that she knows implicitly what the effects of these cuts will be, and more importantly, she will be on the frontline in offering support to those affected by them.
This opposition from the left centres around one thing – the cuts made by the current government which are disproportionately affecting the poorest members of our society. Whether you follow politics or not, it’s hard to escape news of housing benefit being capped, Education Maintenance Allowance being discontinued, and tuition fees being raised, with universities expected to pick up the tab for a whole years tuition for the poorest students, and those just above the income support threshold expected to borrow extortionate amounts to study at elite universities. Because of the benefits being cut and withdrawn, the burden of these measures will fall on low income families, which effectively means women. I almost resent the implication that protecting the most vulnerable in society is something that falls to the left wingers. I’m no socialist worker, but given my upbringing and experience, I feel strongly that anyone with any sense of moral decency should be up in arms right now about this. Whilst large multinational companies like Vodafore are allowed to escape paying taxes, and bankers are taking home bonuses which outstrip the average annual income of most of the population, families reliant on benefits to top up their meagre earning will be expected to work harder, move house to afford rent – and all this is being done against a backdrop of ministers stepping forward to denigrate people on benefits as being workshy scroungers who breed as a result of state support.
Sorry, I’m rambling. I’ll get to the point. I’ve spent today reading political blogs, with a succession of mostly privileged individuals taking the opportunity to use the platform their online status affords them, to express their ideas. These are people who are completely absorbed in the political machine. The debates I’ve read – about whether the way to go is to re-engage with Labour (who haven’t, as yet, made any suggestion that they oppose the cuts), or whether mobilisation away from any party is the way to go – have generated a lot of heat, but precious little light in terms of helping those people who are currently faced with the very real prospect of their standard of living falling well below what most people would deem as acceptable. At first, I was very reticent about joining in. I haven’t been following the online debates much, only the news itself. I was worried that I’d make a fool of myself, that I wouldn’t have the knowledge or the words or the status to actually make anyone listen to me.
And then it hit me. That was the problem.
Political debate is monopolised by those who go looking for a platform. Whether than be as an elected representative in parliament, or as an online blogger, commenting on the issues at hand. What is currently lacking in this whole fiasco, is the voice of the electorate. The people who will be affected by these cuts, don’t have the voice to express what exactly this will mean for them. And, personally, I can’t think of anything more powerful than a group made up of individuals who can articulate PRECISELY what is happening, and why it’s wrong. But there’s the problem – how to you get those people to speak when they’re preoccupied with living their lives, and thinking that even if they did know what to say, no one would listen.
That was my first thought. What’s the point in even writing this blog? People don’t do politics, and the probably won’t read this anyway. I’m no one, the only thing I have is my vote, and that was wasted in any case. And that’s the point – we need to fight against the assumption that no one is listening. Because if ordinary people make a big enough noise, someone will listen. Politicians can only abuse us and our trust if we let them. If you feel strongly about this, if you agree that it’s unfair, get on one of the blogs I’ve linked to above, and SAY WHAT YOU FEEL. Put this blog as your status update, spread the word. The power to change this doesn’t lie in hands of the educated literatti, blogging from their West London offices on Ipads. They can’t speak for the majority. YOU can – you ARE the majority.
You don’t have to have the right words, and what they think of you and the way you express yourself isn’t important. What does matter that you feel that your opinion counts. And it does. Online right now, are people who do nothing but talk about what should be done, without any real idea of the urgency with which we need a solution. If you don’t put your opinion out there (whatever it might be), then who will? No one can speak for you except you. Don’t sit back, thinking it doesn’t matter, whilst others with nothing else to do waste time in discussion which centres around their own egos and opinion, and doesn’t actually consider the individuals.
They can’t speak for the majority. YOU can – you ARE the majority.