Monday, July 23, 2018

It turns out Alan Moore was wrong: Governments should not be afraid of their people

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It's the line everyone knows from Alan Moore's graphic novel V for Vendetta and the film that was made from it:
People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.
But is it as obviously right as it sounds? Is fear really a good thing in politics?

Take the current situation in the Commons, where it highly likely that a majority of MPs believe it is against Britain's interests to leave the European Union.

Why don't they vote in accord with their beliefs? Because of fear.

They are afraid of their party's whips. They are afraid of their local activists. They are afraid of being deselected.

They are afraid their career will never recover. They are afraid of what the press will say. They are afraid of the far right.

Yes, they are afraid of the voters, but the voters' option of voting for someone else next time is at the root of democracy. You stand up for what you believer, but if the voters look elsewhere, that is their right.

Perhaps there is some truth in the idea that is good when governments are afraid rather than individual politicians. Certainly, there is nothing like a resurgent Labour opposition to persuade a Conservative government to treat the average voter better.

But for the most part, fear seems to me to be corrosive to democratic politics.

Equally, the contempt the average voter has for politicians - they are all the same, they are all in it for themselves, they are all out to feather their own nests - seems to me both ill founded and damaging.

When they come to write the histories of the extraordinary period we are living through (if it results in a world where books are still allowed), I think the Daily Telegraph's publication of MPs' expense claims will come to be seen as a key moment.

The BBC's Question Time, for instance, has spent years trying to recapture the public anger that featured in its first programme after the story broke, and has trashed its brand in the attempt.

And why did the scandal over MPs' expenses arise? Because the authorities were afraid of what the press would say if they were given a pay increase and told them to fill their boots from their expense allowances instead.

No, fear is not a good thing in democratic politics.

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