Obama-style activism in Britain

Obama-style activism in Britain
The Big Issue, January 2009
By Heather Brooke

Are British people disengaged with politics? I don’t think so. It’s simply that the man in the street is relatively impotent in the British political system, whereas in the US, where politics is much more open and competitive, politicians must be responsive to the electorate or face imminent extinction.

There aren’t enough avenues for change in British politics and the few that there are rely on patronage more than merit; who you know rather than what you know and particularly what school you attended. Someone like Barack Obama would have zero chance of being selected as an MP in this country, let alone get to the leadership. MP selection isn’t voted on by the people, nor even the party, but a handful of party apparatchiks. Until the system of selecting candidates changes, we have only the illusion of choice.

But there are ‘green shoots’ of hope. In the same week the press was saturated with coverage of Obama’s inauguration, another event received substantially less publicity though it involved our very own elected officials. On January 22nd, MPs planned to exempt their expenses from the Freedom of Information Act.

I fought a 3-year legal battle for transparency of MPs’ expenses. In my High Court victory in May 2008, the judges ruled that transparency in this matter was of the most vital public interest and essential to the health of UK democracy. So what do our highest elected officials do? They lie numerous times about the date they will publish these claims and then sneakily slip in a Statutory Instrument that allows them to keep their expenses secret without having a full debate.

Every other citizen in this country must keep receipts for expenses claimed for five years or they are in breach of HM Revenue and Customs rules. Yet our MPs are intent on creating for themselves a privileged arena where they are exempt from the laws they force the rest of us to live under.

It was only due to the sort of Obama-style grass-roots campaigning that this rot was stopped and a last-minute u-turn was made by Gordon Brown on Wednesday (January 21) shelved the law. Groups such as Theyworkforyou.com, Unlock Democracy, Taxpayers Alliance and other activists spread the word. Thousands joined a Facebook protest group, or rang or wrote to their MPs expressing their outrage.

Very occasionally, we can and do make a difference and this was one of those times. But it’s worth noting that this activism completely circumvented traditional politics. In the minds of most citizens the British Parliamentary system is archaic, elitist and woefully out of touch. MPs must open up and make themselves relevant again to their constituents. If they don’t, then the only people they have to blame for voter disengagement, is themselves.

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One Response to “Obama-style activism in Britain”

  1. Andrew says:

    “In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a scarce man, brave, hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot”..

    I see that a lot of people have been, or are scared of voicing their political views, but apathy is out, activism is in. The amount of squeezing of the people that the gov’t is engaging is having an adverse effect, the more they squeeze, the more we try to set ourselves free, right? – like animals when backed into a corner, they bite hard. Only this time round we’re frogs that have been dropped into a pan of warm water, and the heat’s been turned up ever so incrementally, and only now are we starting to feel the heat burn our skin.

    The people seem to be waking up to how badly they’re being screwed, debt-based lifestyles, absurd taxes, confidentiality & privacy, lies about terrorism and extended military occupations, the economy… etc.. what ISN’T being taken away from us is the question I would like to see answered.

    I think a key piece in viewing the whole big ugly jigsaw is exposing 9/11 and 7/7 for what they really were – staged theatrical events for our consumption, and for their agenda. If we expose the frauds that were the catalyst for the situation we find ourselves in today then you expose the corrupt and self-serving banking and political systems, the military industrial complex with their pockets crammed full of politicians and policy makers, the illusion of the political left / right paradigm (labour / tory / democarat / republican = rigged horse races).. the mainstream media’s willing or unwitting complicity in pumping out ten shades of lies and propaganda at every opportunity to push their agendas (like ex-CIA chief Bill Colby said, “The Central Intelligence Agency owns everyone of any significance in the major media”), and the real nature of our banking systems and what it’s designed to do – consolidation into the hands of the few.

    None of it is what it seems and I truly believe the people are ready to have the wool pulled back from over their eyes and see the ugliest truths they’ve ever had to admit exist. Even Fox news have started admitting how screwed up everything has become, and that’s saying something.

    When history repeats itself, do we notice?

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