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Nurturing Democracy

‘Politics is broken’ claims the online post. It’s not completely wrong and some of the responsibility for that lies with some politicians. But that’s only part of the problem. There is a responsibility that lies with us as well.

I have some sympathy with what Churchill obviously experienced according to the famous quote. My own 5 minute conversation with a man in his fifties occurred shortly after the Brexit vote. Having mentioned the tricky issue of the Irish border, he responded that ‘the Irish are never any trouble.’ Clearly he had slept through the 70s and 80s. The ancient Philosopher Plato had a radical solution to the lack of understanding shown by some voters - just get rid of democracy and put the Philosophers in charge. Some days it is tempting... but democracy is worth fighting for. We all have some responsibility for it; democracy is a little like a fragile flower, it needs to be nurtured


So what can we do?

As uncomfortable as Plato’s conclusion is, it is not hard to have some sympathy with his reasoning. We are not as politically aware as we could be and our awareness often only extends to repeating the sound bites of our own tribe or the newspaper headline we half read. So how can we make sure that we are able to play our part?

  1. Be informed - we have a hard won right to vote but it is important to couple that with a responsibility to be informed. If newspapers are your thing, get a quality one. Please don’t buy the s*n, or the other tabloids. Most have owners with an agenda. You might like to google who owns the daily mail for instance. I know it's boring but watch the news on TV, or listen to radio 4. If social media is your thing, follow a variety of political commentators and journalists including those from a different side of the spectrum to yourselves. Fullfact.org is great for fact checking and is impartial. You might also find out a little more about the values of the main political parties and think about where you are on the political spectrum. A beginners guide is here

  2. Be involved - once you are informed, you may want to get involved. For bad things to happen, all that is usually required is for the majority of people to do nothing. Getting involved might include writing to your MP. You can do this via write to them. All correspondence is communicated to them and they assume that if they get several letters/emails there are an even larger number of people who feel the same way. You might even feel that you want to join a party once you’ve found your tribe

  3. Be respectful- politics can be a mucky business so they say. Again to some extent this depends on us. Some people will say or write quite vile things particularly from behind the safety of their keyboard. We do not have to descend to their level. Although it doesn’t always feel like it, most politicians, like other public servants, are doing what they do for the right reasons. They deserve our appreciation and respect even if we strongly disagree with them on a few issues. It takes all of us to raise the level of discourse Another thing that troubled Plato about democracy was that the politicians and the people are to some extent linked and bring out the worst in each other. In one passage he likens the people to a large and powerful animal being kept by a trainer - the politician. Because of its size and strength, the trainer ends up thinking about how to keep the animal happy and calm rather than the more important question of what is in the best interest of the animal. The more we behave like an irrational mob, the more the politicians/trainers throw the equivament of unhealthy snacks to keep us happy. If as an electorate we become a more informed and thoughtful creature then our politicians may be able to offer us a better quality of debate.

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