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Political Football

I heard Noam Chomsky make a comparison between football and politics the other day.  He said that while few people understood what was going on in politics the ability ordinary people had to talk about football in depth showed that people weren’t avoiding politics because they didn’t have the ability to understand.  Noam pointed out that the intricacies that could develop in the relation of all the players in all the teams over the course of a year created a network of data that left him completely lost, yet ordinary blokes down the pub knew it all inside out.

The reason that all this brain power is directed into things like sport is that in sport there is so much flexibility of outcome.  An individual may not be able to affect anything personally but it somehow feels like the world in which it takes place does not reject the input of the individual.  Ordinary people may not be directors, coaches, or players, but they can still be part of the debate.  They may change nothing as individuals but collectively it certainly appears that the debate can have an effect on the overall game.  The difference in politics is that it feels so futile.  The individual has no effect, but the individual often doesn’t even have the illusion of an effect.  Even those within the system don’t appear to have an effect.  Britain’s party leaders seem to regularly talk about making changes but in reality they can’t even change the ‘Punch and Judy’ format of the way in which people address each other in the house of commons.  If leaders are unable to simply change the rules around how people speak to each other to something more respectful then how on Earth are they going to be able to make any substantive changes.

Politics are currently working on the wrong model.  In football the way things work is fairly obvious.  Teams fight it out until only the best one is left and they win the cup, or generally actions along those lines.  Each time a team goes to play football it is doing its job.  The competing is the job and each team gets rewarded for doing things their way to the best of their ability.

In politics the different teams involved do not do their jobs until after they have won the competition.  Up until that point they essentially pretend to do their job and then if everyone thinks that their ‘fantasy football’ style politics would be effective then maybe they will get voted in and be able to do it for real.  There is no way to objectively test if their methods work though.  In football the way to objectively test if a team’s methods work is to see if they won the game.  It is obvious.  In politics there is no objectivity like this.  The team who is trying to win has to try to work out what sort of things the public would like and then pretend that is what they would do.  The result means that they, lie about their principles; they mimic the group who has already won because their tactics must have worked, even though they are meant to be opposed, i.e. opposite.  

Our political parties cannot be chosen for objective reasons.  They can only be chosen because of personal biases or because the current party in power has screwed things up so badly that we have no other choice beside trying to walk across the channel.  My Grandmother refused to vote liberal because she said they couldn’t be trusted, although if they had ever been given the chance to learn from that mistake it could only  have been when she was a very small child.  Certainly I don’t think Lloyd George would have been likely to make the same mistakes again in the 1980s, having long since shuffled off the mortal coil. There was no objective reason to think that they would be remotely similar to the last liberal government.

This is my complaint.  No wonder sports are easier to relate to than politics.  Most of politics is just one small group of people, fewer than a thousand in a country of sixty million, doing their own thing, more or less unswayed by those who want change.  Luckily I have a solution.

As I have pointed out, every week when football teams compete they do so by doing their job.  The solution for political parties wholly failing to achieve anything comparable in their own operation is for political parties to start competing before they get into power.  Local MPs should be solving their constituent’s problems in their capacity as MP whether they succeed in gaining a parliamentary seat or not.  If a candidate fails and wishes to step down then they should be immediately replaced by someone prepared to do their job immediately.  A replacement shouldn’t be chosen only for the purpose of running for election.  A candidate should be chosen immediately to try and solve local issues and rally people together even if their is no hope of them gaining power for another five years.
The political parties should be operating at a national scale to make large changes to the way things are done.  They should consider themselves to be like large multipurpose charities.  There should be no focus on one particular field, they should be charities that deal with the day to day running of the country.  They should be able to prove their worth as potential leaders to run our country by their ability to raise money and then use that money to improve the lives of the people rather than saving it for advertising and canvassing.  If we could see parties achieve success when they are not in power then we are far more likely to put them in power where they get the opportunity to make even bigger changes.  We should not have to vote for people based on assurances which will probably never attain fruition.

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Charities should not be expected to fill the gaps of poor governance

A stumbling block Russell Brand has come up against a number of times since he started talking about the need to reject our current political system is that he is himself reasonably wealthy.  People question how he can speak about redistribution of wealth, presumably because he has not chosen to redistribute his own wealth.  The situation seems to be that if he were poor then his ideas could be ignored because they are obviously the result of his self interest, but as he is rich his ideas should be ignored as he is obviously a hypocrite.  Recently when speaking about on one topic a channel four journalist asked him about the price he pays for rent in London himself.  When Russell told the reporter that his rent was not relevant to the issue he was discussing the reporter claimed that the cost of his rent was a valid point in a discussion of poverty.

Presumably those who make such assertions to undermine Brand are making the point that if poverty is such a concern then Brand should start the ball rolling by donating his money to the poor or by living in conditions as though he were himself poor.  If it is the second of these two then he would not need his money anyway so should presumably donate it to the poor rather than hording it for no purpose.

However, it is not Brand’s position that the wealthy ought to be more charitable.  Certainly a greater level of charity among the wealthy would be a good thing, not least for the good of their own positive self image.  It is plainly obvious to anyone that has been paying the slightest bit of attention that Russell Brand has been calling out the political system for the past year.  Admittedly he does seem to have a fondness for the idea of anarchy and that people would be able to manage society without governmental oversight, however, I believe he also recognises that in an anarchic system power would very quickly be grabbed by large organisations and the ideal anarchist utopia would not be achieved.  Aside from this is the fact that if one man decides to redistribute his wealth according to charitable ideals but the rest of society carries on as they currently are, then that man may be even less wise than Russell is accused of being by his detractors.

Plainly the ideal that Russell must be striving for is a set of legislative measures to prevent abuse of power and to assist those who are driven into poverty by any failings in the system.  Given the nature of the system that has provoked him to reject British democracy even this currently seems like a pipe dream.  In any event, one of the issues with the current government is their disregard for those in poverty and need.  Public services are rapidly being privatised in what many people believe to be a return to the system as it was before the last world war.  Rather than the eradication of poverty that the last government aimed for the perception of the current government is that there is a grab for profit and advantage at the expense of the country, with the latest report being that aside from her work for charity David Cameron’s wife also secretly holds stock in a company that is being given the opportunity to build on a large amount of green belt land.  Even if this had been declared along with the Camerons’ other interests it would still be shocking.  Undeclared it is on a level with the sleaze that destroyed the last Conservative government.

The solution to poverty that has evidently been in the mind of the Prime Minister since before the general election is that wherever austerity cuts affect the public charities will be able to take up the slack.  Looking back now it is obvious that ‘The Big Society’ as he called it, is society looking after itself.  People may be shocked by the massive rise in the use of foodbanks, but it appears that the Conservative strategy to cope with their increased need is to distract attention until they have become such a fact of life that we have grown used to them.   If there was only one person in Britain who thought that those complaining about poverty should start by giving their money to the poor, it would be David Cameron.

Whilst I am very much in favour of charity, and I am very much in favour of the people in society getting to know each other, and help each other out, I feel it should be done with an overall safety net provided by public services.  At present those safety nets are being taken away and people are dying.  The elderly who freeze to death because they can’t afford heating; the homeless who freeze to death because they can’t afford rent; the family whose children do not attain high academic results because they can’t afford plentiful nutritious food; the workers who have to work on zero hour contracts, who work in an unpleasant environment, who don’t earn enough to cover their costs; those who are falling further and further into debt despite living in modest surroundings and working hard; all these people are being let down by the current system.  Where the slack is taken up by charities it may be portrayed as shameful in the press, but as far as those in the process of dismantling the welfare state, that is one more successful transition.

I do think it is important for everyone to give to charity as it is a beneficial act for everyone’s psyche.  Without charitable acts being second nature the world gradually turns into the kind of uncaring environment that is modern capitalism.  Everything has a value, and money is placed on a pedestal. It troubles me that the damage done to the state welfare system in the name of the austerity measures is being held back by charity.  It is a stop gap measure like stopping up a hole in a dyke with a finger, it is not sustainable.   There are fewer alive every year who can remember the system as it was before the changes brought about by Aneurin Bevin in the 50s but soon we may find ourselves back in that pre-50s system without the safeguards that have been allowed to disappear through the last half a century.

The individuality that allowed people freedom from stress in those days has been wiped out by the constant drive for profit and stream lining.  Cost cutting and overwork drives people into illnesses of stress at subsistence levels of wages today; the next steps that lead to a reduced NHS and harder to obtain sickness benefits will not be able to support the modern worker who is expected to run like a machine.  Charity will only go so far.  Organisation on a societal level should not be left up to the chance that volunteers will be well co-ordinated enough to cope with preventing cultural collapse.

While I buy most of my clothes, books and other possessions from charity shops and give to collectors, and drop coins in boxes it worries me that people are starting to give chunks of money to fill the void left by poor governance in the public sector.  Broad swathes of needs are not catered for by the specific aims of the handful of major charities and as more charities will be set up to cater for these needs as they arise they will be accompanied by crowds of people signing folk up to direct debits in the street, direct debits which will naturally skim a percentage off the top for the collecting professionals before donating to the charity.  Donations that we already know go into the overheads of running the organisation before they even reach those in need.

I would advocate that people think about where they want their money to go.  Charities at present, worthy though they are, are a middle man, separating giver from receiver.  The humanity is taken out of the equation; it has become another soulless financial transaction.  I am sure that people have recognised for centuries that charity is a way of buying one’s way out of guilt or feelings of obligation.  In the modern era it has become so clinical and efficient that many people barely realise their money is going to charity.  When someone buys a shirt or a book in a charity shop, how often do they register exactly which charitable cause they have supported.  This is one reason that I think people should make their charitable giving more personal.  A second reason is that when money goes to a large charity it is money that can be seen publicly.  That is an area where a government minister can see less need to support that section of society.  When there are cuts to be made isn’t it convenient if the cuts can be made where there is a back up money source.

In order that these areas of supported public services do not stand out as good places for the next austerity cut we should give our charity directly to the needy.  I am not saying that people should not continue to shop in charity shops, these serve the secondary purpose of preventing the ecological damage done by constant consumption of new products.  I am saying that if you want to prevent people from starving then try to find out who in your community is hungry, go to your neighbours and tell them that the multibuy deal at the supermarket has left you with too much bread, see who is grateful for the help.  Tell the people in your street that your garden had a glut of fruit, you can’t possibly eat it all, who needs it?  If you care about homelessness then see that the homeless guy in the doorway has a warm meal one night, or a chocolate bar full of calories.  Rather than drop the coin of economic incentive for sitting in doorways into his lap, think about what he needs to stay alive and give him that.  People should get to learn what the issues are, learn where their help is needed, the issues should stop sliding beneath our notice because they are affecting more people every day during this ridiculous austerity drive.