The Politics of Fear...and A Compliant People
June 15, 2022.
The past two years has seen more people than ever before begin to question how we in the UK are governed, as well as by whom. That by itself of course, is not at all new. Questions have been asked of government (in whatever form it has taken) since societies began to form, thousands of years ago.
In the United Kingdom such queries came to a head with the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede, just south-east of Windsor on the banks of the River Thames, on June 15, 1215. At the time the reigning monarch, King John, was not held in high esteem and drafted by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Cardinal Stephen Langton, it was to make peace between the unpopular king and a group of rebel barons, and promised the protection of church rights, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment and access to swift justice, among other things.
Since then, Magna Carta has gone through various incarnations but the document remains a powerful symbol of liberty today, and as Lord Denning once put it, "the greatest constitutional document of all times—the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot".
Since then however, there has been a gradual decline in the freedom and liberty of people, not just in the UK but elsewhere and in countries that are generally accepted to be free, fair and democratic. Nevertheless, the United Kingdom of Great Britain is held to be the pioneer of individual liberty and not for nothing is its form of government known as 'The Mother of All Parliaments'.
So why is it so many now, in 2022, question the system in the UK? The ultimate question is at a general election, but increasing numbers of ordinary people say they will not bother voting as there is nobody worth voting for. That is something of an indictment of government candidacy by itself but there is more to it than that.
One of the common elements to criticism of government is that those with power want power for the sake of having it and will do whatever it takes to keep it once they do have it. Another is that all members of any legislature are at best, economical with the truth, at worst, outright liars and utterly corrupt. A third is an increasing tendency to use fear to persuade people to accept whatever measures are proposed.
These are accusations that were rarely levelled at Prime Ministers and their colleagues even in the dark days of war, 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 being the two most obvious. Throughout the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, as a general rule, nobody really thought members of parliament, our elected MPs, were power-hungry, dishonest and certainly none were accused of stoking fear among the populace to get particular policies through the House of Commons (HoC) and into law. With of course, some exceptions. There are always exceptions.
Despite those, although many MPs came from widely differing backgrounds, most had already served their country before becoming MPs but by the 1990s, few remained as they had got older and retired or died. Their replacements had not seen at first hand the devastation caused by war. Neither had many suffered much by way of social disadvantage - they had reaped the rewards of their predecessors work in rebuilding the country after World War II and knew little of the old ways; these were MPs who knew only of secure housing, central heating and a plentiful supply of food. And some of these new MPs went into politics never having had a real job beforehand, a number that has increased significantly in more recent times.
The net result is that today, few MPs know little, if anything, of the lives of the people they purport to represent and to them, with no first-hand knowledge of what has gone before, too many consider themselves to be a cut above ordinary folk. And they do like their status as well as the power they can wield. Even though they may well have started with impeccable intent, once comfortable in Westminster, they see no reason to deviate from what became - for them - normal. On top of a generous taxpayer-funded salary, to claim for anything and everything on (again taxpayer-funded) expenses whether justified or not; and it is a small step from there to an increased level of dishonesty.
With no real experience of life behind them to push for policies of which they approve, they have only two things they can use; what is now known as 'spin' - the use of terminology that makes one thing out to be another; providing a biased interpretation of an event; the use of disingenuous, deceptive and manipulative tactics. After that the only asset they can deploy is fear. Fear of the consequences for voters if they don't get their way.
This really began to manifest itself after 1997, when Tony Blair (who was only 30 when elected as MP for Sedgefield) led the Labour party to power. At 43, Blair became the youngest person to become prime minister since Lord Liverpool became PM aged 42 in 1812. He was the first prime minister born after World War II, the first born after the accession of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne and in his first six years in office, Blair ordered British troops into combat five times, more than any other prime minister in British history. Media manipulation, misdirection, doublespeak, diversion and sexing up became a standard routine.
These are tactics that continued under David Cameron's leadership and they continue today under Boris Johnson. The politics of fear reached a peak after the arrival of COVID-19. From the early part of 2020, people around the world were bombarded with the prospect of a deadly disease that would wipe out millions.
It is small wonder then, that so many voters are disillusioned with politics and politicians. But why have so many ordinary people accepted this? Not just in 2020/2021 but in the years prior to them?
An aggrieved bus passenger once complained bitterly to an on-duty inspector at a bus station abut the standard of driving resulting in an uncomfortable journey. The complainant ended by angrily asking, "Where do you get these people from?" The inspector blandly replied, "From the same place as our passengers - the public."
The same applies to MPs. They also come from the public. And just as MPs became used to the easy life, so too have many voters. People today enjoy, or at least have enjoyed, a standard of living beyond the dreams of past generations. Not all by any means. Far from it in fact but those who have fallen out of the net of comfort are outnumbered by those still within. And up to now at least, there are enough still in comfort for the political classes to ignore anybody who is not.
Children have grown up, become parents and then grandparents, yet wanted for very little. And most do not want their relatively comfortable lives disturbed. So they go along with and indeed, respond to, spin and deception in just the way the spinners want. Compliance is easy. Resistance is not. When COVID-19 restrictions were introduced, the majority obeyed without question - as what amounts to decades of indoctrination paid off.
This is why we are where we are today. What happens next will depend largely on the spirit of people, the will to be an individual rather than an anonymous number. One can only hope that the flame of individuality has not been extinguished because if fear does not work, force comes next.
© Kevan James, 2022.
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