“Democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time” Winston Churchill to the House of Commons Nov 11th 1947
Listening to all the media lamenting the splintering of Democracy today, I’m never quite sure if “They” know what they are really mourning. Reading the “commentary and opinion pieces”, I think they are referring to their own losses of influence and authority. What they commonly refer to as the polarisation of the electorate, or the “unravelling of the centre” is just a change in Democracy activism. And the change is scary.
Brendan O’Connor laments on how Fine Gael are neglecting “their constituency“; what he calls “the majority in this country”. Brendan needs to check his numbers. Fine Gael, getting less than a quarter of the electoral vote at the last General Election, is not a “majority”.
The other Brendan (Burgess), is calling for cuts to social welfare in the name of “fairness”. The great humanitarian that he is, admits “it will cause hardship in the short term…but we have to tell people that living on the dole will no longer be a picnic”. Bless you Brendan, your tough love is an inspiration to Right Wingers everywhere.
Shane Coleman makes a good point when he says that the government seem “intent on repeating the catastrophic error of narrowing the tax base“. He’s right of course; history repeats. He undermines his own argument by quoting the Irish Tax Institute report example of someone on €75,000 paying 44 times more tax than someone earning €18,000. I’ve written previously how someone on €18,000 per annum is INSOLVENT under the Insolvency Service of Ireland’s basic living standards. Seriously, who fact checks these pieces/reports?
Eoin O’Malley, in a balanced piece, writes about the concerns around some of the most emotive challenges facing modern democracy. On immigration, he states “55% of Irish people agree that there should be very strict limits on the number of non-EU migrants coming to Ireland…yet we never hear any debate on what reasonable limits might be.” Yes Eoin, extremists, on both sides, make debate difficult. But not impossible. Don’t withdraw.
All of these pieces are about fear and loss. Fear of change of social class, loss of political influence, loss of financial standing and a fear of uncomfortable debate.
But, the biggest wastes of human energies, are those of loss and fear. Instead of sulking over the kicking that the failed “representative democracy” has taken since the 2008 financial crash, they should be asking what can be done to make sure the birth of a new democratic activism is nurtured, rather than smeared as “sinister fringe”. Instead of mourning; writing lazy tropes about Irish Water protesters, we should be offering solutions.
In his short book, “Our Iceberg is Melting”, John Kotter tells of how a lone penguin realises that the iceberg, which has been the home to his colony for many years, is melting. Met with disdain and indifference from the colony leaders, he sets about building an alternative leadership dynamic.
By pulling together a small group with credibility, influencing skills, and strong analytical/ organisational skills, our loner creates that one thing needed to influence the entire colony: a sense of URGENCY.
Ultimately, this small band delivers a vision and a strategy that brings the majority into the new reality. A new world; one were everyone plays a role. The colony divides the labour, shares the responsibility and through their individual strengths, they successfully find and relocate to a new superior iceberg. Happily ever after, right? Wrong.
The colony, now experts in dealing with change, has established a new forward looking culture. They don’t get comfortable in their new surroundings. They push on and challenge each other to make sure they don’t become as complacent as their earlier leadership model.
This little book should be compulsive reading for anybody who:
- Is wasting time lamenting the loss or fragmentation of their old model/status
- Aspires to a better more inclusive future
- Is afraid of change
Rest assured, despite the lamentations and wailings of traditionalists, change is already under way. Rather than push against change, we need to guide it. We need to mould these changes into a compelling vision for a fairer, more inclusive and progressive society. We need to remember that democracy, in its literal form, means people power.
People power is the exact opposite of Trump’s “only I can save us” shtick. People power is not the outsourcing of our democratic responsibility, once we vote every four years. People power is knowing Bernie Sanders won a great victory in his defeat to Hillary Clinton.
People power is having the courage to have difficult debates, addressing the fears of the “centre” and lending your skills to help create a new vision. We need an optimistic “we’re all in this together” democratic activism. Lazy cliches and diatribes, like those of the Two Brendan’s, have no place in a forward facing Ireland. They belong to the fear-mongering, change intolerant mourners. The future belongs to the ones who want to problem solve, not problem produce.
And no matter what your outlook, the Iceberg is still melting.
Tony Groves October 2016