Post No.: 0010
Politics is and involves every single citizen, and it’s barely just about voting once every few years or so (hence for many things you don’t need to be of voting age). Leave it all to formal politicians and/or other people who are more bothered to act than you and you’ll get what you’re given (so if you believe there is a ‘loud minority’ getting its own way then take a look at the ‘lazy majority’ (if it is indeed a majority) who are diffusing responsibilities to each other until too few bother to actually act (the ‘bystander effect’)).
I come from the perspective of living in the United Kingdom yet this blog is for a global audience, but your country may have a similar parliamentary system (yet I’m also acutely aware that many countries don’t and you may (or may not!) be envious of the kind of democratic system we have here. Although every governmental system in the world has room for improvement and we should always seek improvement, we here in the UK and in similar countries often forget or don’t realise our systems could be so much worse).
As only a brief overview, to get involved in the UK parliament as a UK citizen – you can get in touch with your local Member of Parliament (MP) about anything (who can then raise the issue during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), written questions, debates or by proposing legislation), you can attend a surgery session with your local MP (whether you voted for them or not), write to the relevant select committee, Lord, MP or government department responsible for a bill, petition against a bill if it will affect you, you can send in evidence to a select committee, partake in a digital debate, partake in a Lords Chamber event, start or sign a petition or e-petition to propose a new law or a change to a law, book a talk or attend a workshop or other free events, of course you can vote in local and General Elections and referenda, or even stand for election to become an MP and seek the votes to get into parliament oneself (barring a few exceptions such as if you’re in the police, armed forces or are bankrupt. At the time of writing, it currently costs about £500 sans campaign costs).
Whether your local MP is in government or is only a backbench MP may have an impact on whether he/she has more clout in the House of Commons (the ‘lower house’ of the parliament in the UK). MPs and members of the Lords (who are members of the House of Lords, which is the ‘upper house’ of the parliament in the UK) cannot interfere in court decisions or help with private disputes though, or anything that is not the direct responsibility of parliament or the government, in which case one should contact the Citizens’ Advice Bureau or the relevant ombudsman. Woof.
Please note that the government and parliament are not the same thing – in short, the leader of the winning party after a General Election selects the members whom he/she wants in government and they decide how the country is run, whilst members of parliament are directly voted for by the public (into the House of Commons) and appointed by advice of the Prime Minister or an independent commission (into the House of Lords) and these people are there to keep the government in check.
So in a way, you have no excuse if you don’t get at least somewhat involved in something political that matters to you. (I wonder how many voting UK citizens have actually visited the UK parliament website or the EU parliament website to learn about how these parliaments are structured and how they function? Your country or region may have equivalent online resources.) You can even sign up for email alerts to follow a bill’s (a proposed law’s) progress. You can check out the government’s legislation information website for any newly-enacted legislation. (It is wise to learn the laws of the land and your rights because it can put you in a very powerful position during any disputes you may encounter with anyone.) For better or worse, there is also the strategy of lobbying the government. If you don’t like your current local MP, the current Prime Minister or party in government then support whichever party you feel has a potential MP who better suits your values… The above is by no means an exhaustive list of what you could do.
Democratic politics is fundamentally about competition so get involved in this competition, such as by helping those you support, formally criticising those you don’t or even by standing for election yourself. Healthy scrutiny and competition is what keeps your government in check! Even in non-democracies, survival of the fittest still ultimately applies – for better or worse, uprisings can and evidently do occur if a populace feels pushed or motivated enough to do so (so state leaders should really all learn to serve their people rather than selfishly themselves and their own small circles).
I feel that it’s more important to help the candidates or parties you support because criticism is easy and merely criticising those you don’t support won’t really help much if there’s no one else in a strong enough position to threaten to replace them if the incumbents don’t change. Without popular support for an alternative candidate or party, the incumbents are less motivated to listen no matter how much you criticise them. It’s like instead of just moaning to your current mobile phone service provider, you’re in a much stronger position to get your own way if you emphasise that you’ll genuinely take your business elsewhere if they don’t listen. If you moan yet stick with them regardless then they’ll have no incentive to change. It’d effectively be like a one-party state in politics, or a monopoly in economics, except people won’t try going elsewhere rather than can’t, which is much the same result. It’s also much easier to take down something than to replace it with something better – so if you want to overthrow a government, ideally make sure a replacement that enough citizens will be happy with is ready to immediately fill in the power vacuum, otherwise this vacuum will likely be violently contested.
This does highlight the need for strong opposition parties, but if they don’t exist then one could take on this challenge by standing for election oneself if one cares strongly enough (you cannot blame other people for not cooking the dish you want to eat if you don’t want to cook it yourself) and if indeed one’s differing views are popular enough. (Or I suppose one could try emigrating! In most countries, you’re not forced against your will to stay!)
Indeed this may be an over-simplistic or rose-tinted perspective, especially if you live in an oppressive state where criticism and competition against the incumbent leadership is violently stifled. This subject is (like almost all other subjects I post about) an extremely complicated and multifaceted one, and one must note that (again like almost all other subjects I post about) I have only just begun. But for now, the aim of this post is for no one to feel jaded or resigned but empowered and influential. There is hope. Big things can and often do start from small beginnings…