Realpolitik (see also Political realism; from German: real “realistic”, “practical” or “actual”; and Politik “politics”) refers to politics or diplomacy based primarily on practical considerations, rather than ideological notions or moralistic premises. In this respect, it shares aspects of its philosophical approach with those of realism and pragmatism.
"Manchmal werden Leute den Wald vor lauter Bäumen nicht sehen."

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

010- Protest and change as foreign phenomenon in the British psyche.

(7/2/2011) N.B This is the second incarnation of this post, since Blogger thought it would demonstrate how autosave can also be an immensely destructive feature. Nevertheless, the spirit lives on...

We have been subjected to a media frenzy of minute by minute coverage of the uprising by the everyday people of Egypt, calling for an end to their people-contemptuous political regime of over thirty years. As we leave for work, return home, and even on the static images of newspapers, we are reminded of the ensuing chaos in a distant land, blighted by a lack of the 'universal liberties' we are purported to enjoy day by day.

What's more, we have bore witness to the harrowing accounts of those who are so fortunate as to be able to spend the latter part of winter, holidaying along the Red Sea beaches or exploring the 'exotic' realms of North Africa, only to be rudely disturbed by public insurrection, leading to them experiencing shorter holidays and delayed flights home. Oh the humanity.

From the safety of our armchairs within the realm of the so-called mother of Parliaments, we can look on at our televisions screens of the chaos ensuing in those former-colonial non-European entities. "Egyptians have been waiting for democracy for 30 years" say the correspondents and our leaders, reminding us of the superiority of our own democracy and stability stagnation, whilst continuing to occupy other foreign realms to force this great ideology upon an unenlightened people. "Both sides must exercise restraint" and "the will of the people must be honoured" they say, whilst we continue our military presence in foreign lands in contempt of those people who have suffered collateral damage as a result of said contempt, and continue to ignore the will of our own people by delegitimising the angst of our own people, when our government officials renege on their promises.

How rich of William Hague to declare the following:

"We call on the government to exercise restraint and on the Egyptian people to pursue their legitimate grievances peacefully. President Mubarak spoke last night of his commitment to take new steps towards greater democracy and freedom for the citizens. We call on him now to listen urgently to the aspirations expressed by the Egyptian people."

Pity our own government didn't follow its own advice in the light of our own protests.

Protests and Strikes

Protest remains an alien concept to the contemporary British media and general public. It is the reserve of loony left-wingers, militant French workers and Russian peasants. It is the result of a society which has become too used to receiving total state provision of services, and has made them all too spoilt, dependent and unenterprising.

It is an extension of the work-shy habits of unions, demanding ever more from the decreasing coffers of the already generous state, it is a massive inconvenience to the shopping (bad) habits of the lay people and a waste of police resources, who already do a sound job of preventing crime from behind cameras, civil orders and office desks. 

And above all, it is a manifestation of the inherent naivety of this nation's youth, softened by never having been subjected to National Service, which of course coupled with a stint on the front line with "the boys" in Iraq and Afghanistan, would've made the students think twice about "whingeing" that the ConDem nation has ruined their long term aspirations for the future.

The rest of us wish we were "more like the French" in so far that we are happy to describe our own public political angst as lacklustre at best. We choose to praise or deride our nearest continental neighbour's habits, fitting to whichever event the popular press deem worthy of action. Asylum Seekers and Migrants? Be like the French. Change the voting system and challenge the Monarchy? Forget the frogs.

Even Ed Miliband, leader of the self-dubbed progressive party of the UK, has distance himself from protest forming a legitimate means of expression in opposition to the Establishment's much preferred method of snail-pace change via the ballot box. I'm not too sure who he is kidding. In that particular instance, choosing to strike on the day of the Royal Wedding would be the perfect opportunity to remind the Establishment that there are wider problems that won't go away by simply permitting the Royals to prance about the capital in archaic attire.

Of course, how dare the workers in the case that Ed is speaking about, who are paid a handsome some by Greater London, choose to protest on a day which will mark the superficial futility of progressive thought in the UK. Ed is convinced that it would alienate the public, which would ultimate make the public lose favour with the striker's cause. Indeed, the passive public can be relied upon to stand up and not be counted, as we saw in the case of Education Cuts protesters being spoken of in terms of being ungrateful, and dealt the patronising blow of being told "well, we don't support your cause now." As if it was supported anyway.

Voting "reform"

The New Statesman and The Independent have also demonstrated the media's attempts to fuel suspicion of the new, by highlighting the fact that a leaked memo (Jan 2011) has revealed that the BBC have instructed their staff to no longer describe the AV referendum as 'electoral reform,' as it is a breach of neutrality since the word reform is deemed too positive. This, in spite of the BBC choosing to use the word in relation to other government "reforms."

Part of me agrees with not choosing to use the word 'reform', in so far that the changes being proposed are nowhere near the great proposals of The Jenkins Report (see here1 and here2.) AV isn't even proportional, and just serves to perpetuate resistance to change by the Establishment and the politically impotent British public. Pragmatically, it can be seen as a step in the right direction towards a more proportional system, but realistically, there will be little urgency in the near future amongst the Establishment to put forward a new voting proposal, without mass-public understanding and support for how fundamentally positive for democracy and representation a more rigorous voting reform would be.

It is almost tragic that so many people have bought into the government-prescribed melancholy surrounding "credit crunch," which has effectively diluted public interest in pursuing other key reforms such as democratising the other half of parliament. Money is no object when it comes to giving people more rights over their country.

The worst ill that we suffer from is the prevailing idea that if something isn't generally perceived to broken, it needn't be fixed.  The current first-past-the-post voting system is all that we know; It is all that we have ever been presented with from an early age under the guise that it is fair. How is it possibly fair on everyone who votes, if they don't have a say on the final decision?

Take a situation where a group of 16 school pupils are presented with five options for an end of term treat. They each pick their most favoured option. Five vote for trip to the park, four to watch a film, three to go bowling, two to run a disco and one to run a bake sale. It is a strange analogy to choose, but it is easy to see that under this system, five people have succeeded in determining what the remaining 11 people must opt for. And 5 people, are very much less than 50% of that particular electorate.

Under the AV system, the pupils would've been able to rank the treats in order of preference, thus meaning that the end result would be a fairer reflection on what the group judged to be the best option overall.

Cameron has already tried to portray AV as a foreign system that is only used by three other countries in the world, and already belittles us by stating that we'll find it complicated. Rather, it will complicate matters for the Establishment as they will (hopefully) no longer be able to rely on a small proportion of their constituents to automatically keep them employed for another five years on a nice earner.

So what now?

For the time being, we must do battle with the apathy that is rife amongst the public. All it would take is for individuals to consider the bigger picture. When we are sat watching these protesters being shot at from the comfort of our armchairs, can we truly be content that our own environment doesn't warrant a challenge? Of course, we aren't yet dodging bullets from the arms of the state, but this shouldn't mean we should rest on our laurels. In the same manner that we fight the scourge of racism, even in its absence through preventative education, we must fight the blight of apathy by engaging our peers in active discussion of our immediate environment.

All it took was a spark in an Egyptian mind to overthrow their leader. The rest of society soon followed. In Britain, a student mind paved the way for the first great manifestation against state contempt in a long time. Sadly, the rest of society didn't follow, not for a lack of legitimacy, but because of latent self-interest.

It is this self-interest that the British state exploits, knowing that we cautious citizens would rather not fall afoul of the financial crisis, the public sector job cuts and the newly prescribed "age of austerity." Reducing insurrection to merely a habit of volatile foreigners abroad is exactly how the Establishment prefers to have society consider it. For instance, in spite of Nick Clegg's broken promise to students with regard to English tuition fees, the British media chose to focus upon the shocked faces of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles during the protests, rather than the fact that the state had yet again ignored the will of the people. They chose to focus on the shock to two people who are pure incarnations of the British political status-quo.

How dare this naive youth dare to challenge the established order!

Our psyche is so wrapped up in its myth of exceptionalism, that we continuously fail to realise that the anachronistic political system that we harbour has long since been surpassed by nations who prefer to look at the past in order to learn which paths ought not to be retrod upon, as opposed to for answers for the present day. Having a mother-of-Parliaments is not a virtue in itself, for a 19th century system has no place in the 21st century. It simply does not allow for change to take place at a modern pace, which of course, is convenient for the Establishment. 

It just isn't good enough if you feel that protests and reform campaigns are a waste of your time and a massive inconvenience for your weekend window shopping, or whichever unimportant chore you have conjured up for yourself. It is even worse that you feel that the efforts will change nothing, because the effectiveness of protest is only as futile as our willingness to sit by the wayside and do nothing.

The Egyptians have thus far proved us wrong.

Let us take heed.



  1. Whilst we are discussing the prospects of expanded democracy as it were and the creation of 'reforms' that are hardly progressive, why not debate in parliament an actual reform which has for years and several governments gone unresolved: i.e. the proposal for an elected 'House of Lords'.
    It is a frank and unapologetic insult to democratic ideology that we elect a house of members of parliament who are presided over by another house of hereditary Peers.
    Aside from continuous publications of white papers suggesting reforms, and debatable votes by parliament on such papers particularly the most recent 2007 vote whereby politicians are accused of voting for the system least likely for the House of Lords to accept, we are no closer to abolishing the current system and moving towards a more progressive and democratically aligned structure. Then and only then, should we consider ourselves fit to cast as any sort of imitable arrangement for countries seeking an established democratic model.

  2. Exactly. This is what saddens me about the present system. But the lack of desire for change, or even awareness of the inherent unfairness of our system from the public is a cause for concern.

    It's all good and well getting upset about "greedy bankers," but all of that serves to refocus attention away from the problems of the system. Even the "expenses scandal" served to divert attention away from the system as a whole, focussing on individual politicians, who people often vilify, rather than the system which harbours them.