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7 great issues

22 April 2005

“Interesting, but not satisfying, I want to know your view”. This was Solana Larsen on my blog before last. Quite right: blogs are about attitude not just reporting. But to answer her I need to spell out what matters.

tom

I wrote about VoteOK and Vote4Peace trying to make an issue out of the election. Why?

The election feels like a charade. It is not that all politicians are liars or mainly lie. This is a cheap untruth. It is not that there is no difference between the parties. The point is that a general election is a rare, four-yearly moment when people can exercise power. We are sold elections as a moment when our views count. But the issues which really count about the directions we should or should not take are not on the table.

There are seven great issues facing Britain. One has been met by Labour – the economy. Thanks mainly to Gordon Brown and his team what was a crippled economy prone to ‘go-stop’ is growing and ensuring employment. There are plenty of remaining questions about structural inequalities, of course, whose resolution demands international action.

But what kind of country does Britain wish to be? Four more issues address this: the relationships with Europe and America, with democracy and between city and country.

The BBC's Nick Assinder says that Europe is the missing issue from this election. America is even more important (as I’ve blogged, it is the central, repressed source of shame these election days). Democracy (in the large sense of how we govern ourselves) is the most important of the great missing issues for me, but is only part of the whole. How city and countryside relate defines the character of a society as a whole.

The next great issue is global. Call it climate change (and see the new openDemocracy debate). Will the planet survive? Excuse me, could the politicians stop agreeing with each other about this and propose action?

That makes six great issues in all.

The seventh? The seventh is the charade itself, the way in which the issues that matter are not being addressed. The POWER Enquiry into the gap between people and politics is about this. It is taking unmistakable evidence that people, young and old, are intensely interested in political issues and increasing disparaging of politicians and official politics.

Talking with John Berger over tea in a sunny London street yesterday (he is here for the festival of his work) he was telling me how the vote in the forthcoming French referendum on the European constitution looks like being a ‘No’. He feels this is not about the constitution. Suddenly a chance has arisen for people to say no to the whole process they are being offered. If it is a “no”, it will be a vote against the charade.

This is where the two campaigns I started with come in.

Sorry if this blog is taking its time, like a puzzle I am trying to draw back the surface of things.

VoteOK is driven by a countryside against city protest. Vote4Peace is about not having a war-prone alliance with America. Both are also about the lack of democracy which links and galvanizes the great missing issues. Both are trying to rupture the charade that POWER is investigating.

In addition, the rapid growth of independent candidates challengingly described by Tom Burgis in openDemocracy.net shows how individuals are rolling up their sleeves to do it their way.

Perhaps all this action will be like the impact of the global warming that the politicians are ignoring. The heat and friction that is being generated may not (but it may) be felt this time. But sometime soon the great glaciers of party politics will break off and find themselves floating and melting and out at sea.

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