How Do You Change People so that they Demand a Part in the Decision Making That effects us all?
I have been thinking about why people, the Labour Party, most other organisations, and pressure groups, seem to lack vitality. People feel restricted, and impose restrictions on themselves unnecessarily. This contrasts with the peace movement in the 80s that was not in anyway restricted. Also after the Second World War people expected, and got many things they needed such as the N.H.S.
Now people who agree that they want something, but argue it can’t be done because of budgets or perceived public acceptableness these are restrictions, and are new examples of applying the old divide and rule method. By contrast someone who had been educated at a public school may say “there is no such thing as can’t”.
The subject of this talk is why people feel restricted, and how we may together change that in ourselves and in others. This would amount to a change of culture, where to have power, and responsibility is a natural accepted right of every citizen of this country. The Problem I think that in many respects most people prefer to have other people who are brought up to be rulers, rule them. That is I believe the reason that we commonly have, appalling company management, and appalling government, in this country. The rulers, some of whom the electorate could remove, are happy because they can rule with divine arrogance, and the ruled, can blame the rulers for everything because they are not responsible for anything. This is, not how it has to be.
My view of America that Jim Munves, who spoke to this branch, told me about, and my brief visit to New York confirmed is that; Another Way The United States although far from perfect, for example a smaller percentage of the population votes in presidential elections than the percentage of U.K. voters who vote in Parliamentary Elections. At a local level the U.S. is very good. Their system is based on anarchy, but where the people know they have rights set down in their constitution. They say what they think, and expect what they say to count, which contrasts with our way. In New York I only had time to see one example of this; Things that Local Government does, are publicly accountable. By comparison here public rights don’t really exist the rights we think we have now are often taken away or we give them up. In the U.S. people are taught to speak, to debate and how to run a meeting properly, at school, they use our own Roberts Rules of Order, which is the basis of our own Parliament.
Originally the American Constitution was written for all Americans although the slaves, and women did not have so many rights, the Civil War, and Martin Luther King contributed to improving those things later. In Britain people seem to see that there is a problem, but have been mislead about what it is, I think there is a tide for change building up. They feel powerless to do anything about what I believe is the route of the problem that is, privilege power, the House of Lords and the Royal Family. These or other interests are really ruling using Parliament to manage the Country for them. It seems that we would not allow a visionary equivalent of a Martin Luther King for working people in Britain to appear.
One important difference between the U.K. and U.S. is that government in the U.K. has absolute power over almost everything. Naturally people feel and are largely powerless at a local level by comparison with the U.S.. A county council may not spend modest amounts of money on a new school building for example even if they can finance it they have to get approval from central government. In the U.S. government powers are limited by the reserve clause, that is: The People and States have all the powers not reserved to the Federal Government by the constitution. States are in tern limited by there own reserved clause, leaving power to the people and villages. Our boroughs and county councils operate by permission of central government and can be abolished by government, they are therefore accountable to central government, not directly to local charge payers. The U.S. Federal reserve clause I mentioned would mean that a council could not be abolished by the government, whatever for example outcome of an inquiry into the future of local government may recommend. You remember how quickly government dispensed with the Greater London Council in 1986.
The American system is not perfect, George Bush was the head C.I.A, the drug dealing agency that became well known after Oliver Gate. Also Neil Kinnock abandoned Unilateral Nuclear Disarmament straight after his visit with Reagan. These are examples of how rights that American citizens have, do not extend to other countries. Within their own country it is looking unlikely that they will get any form of National Health Service however popular it is.
We should remember that the Labour Party started as an organisation of working people demanding rights for themselves, which is a very important aspect of the party. This differentiates us from the nineteenth century Liberals who were working for the less fortunate not themselves. The party’s origins always included relatively comfortably off people trying to get better conditions for working classes, the Fabians for example, there part was, and still is vital. For that reason, it is vital that the party continues to be a movement of, for want of a better word, the working classes, but not solely. It also follows that, without direction and vision from the grass-roots, the labour party may take the roll of managing the country for the rulers, in the same ways as the Tory's do.
The Tory party sees itself as managers using our token democracy to, as I said before, run the country for their superiors. They are either the old ruling class, big money or the Americans, and occasionally the people if there is enough popular demand to say keep the N.H.S. In copying the Tory way the labour party will show that there is no other way of governing than by the old tried and trusted arrogant ways we have always known. The rulers are still in control using their old methods to set the agenda. Many people don’t vote because they don’t see the point, they may say that all political party’s are the same. They are right if you view the political party’s as alternative managers for the rulers, or they don’t feel they are part of the movement or party, I can see positive changes in this respect.
I think people must be enthused to demand more open government, the demanding being the change of attitude by people required, but how do you enthuse people to believe they can demand, and expect change. This must be what socialism is about. Ordinary citizens should feel that they are part of society, contributing by work or other ways, and take part in the decision making that effects their life. As opposed to the Tory view that is; you must be money centred, a very bad import from the U.S., must respect your superiors, and do what they tell you, the Willy Whitelaw “nanny syndrome”. Thinking for your self, and doing because it is right is unnatural, and should be treated like all forms of non-conformism that is squashed.
What Can Be Done?
I would like the labour party to promote the teaching of how to communicate your concerns (peace studies) and applying that to making government open, with the understanding of the reasons for wanting it so. This can be done by the teaching of conduct of meetings in schools, and to adults. The party does this a bit already, but not well enough because the reason for conducting meetings properly within the party has been forgotten to some extent. People need to be equipped with the basic skills needed to make open government work. They could then use these powers to call or participate in public meetings with the powers to overturn the decisions Decision Makers make. This is what happens in the United States, (the choice is that or to keep our present system where sensible lords making sure not to many bad things become law).
This will mean that elected members also must be better equipped to cope with this degree of public scrutiny, that I expect, would happen simultaneously. Many mistakes will be made learning how to use power and responsibility this must be stated so that the mistakes don’t become reasons not to proceed, in other words warn against division. People in power must accept that they are the servants of the people who elected them, people will check, and if necessary overturn the decision maker’s decisions. In effect we would all be joining the ruling classes there being no other class.
Divided and Ruled
The peace movement had some success, although we have more and far better nuclear weapons now than we had in 1979/1980. It would be far from all right to show General Dynamics promotional film of cruise missiles flying between the mountains as we saw on TV in 1980. Or arguing that the policy of first strike, destroying all the enemy bombs before a war has started, is all right, and that is not just because the big enemy has gone.
The pressures from outside the peace movement to divide and rule did not work at all. This was because people involved in the 1960s had learned that the peace movement became divided on what was or was not acceptable for the peace movement to do, that finished the movement then. This time round nothing was unacceptable, from Greenham Common Women and Non Violent Direct Action to M.P lobbying by conventional means, off cause we had nothing to do with the National Front who were also anti-nuclear. The Tory infiltration that occurred, was dealt with and stopped, because of good communication within the peace movement this meant that when lies were fed in, they were very quickly corrected. The corrective action was taken at grass-roots level, not imposed from the top.
As an opposition party, we are very caught up in division, the divide and rule, I mentioned in my opening. I’m not saying we are the most divisive, but for all the labour councillor/governor/M.P skills in operating effectively where decision making occurs. The tory’s laugh at us that is the green, lib dem, and labour party because all the time we squabble, they have power. Perhaps we should stop it?
An interesting quotation from the book ‘A Short Illustrated History of the United States’ by James Munves: “In freeing themselves from British rule, America did not win liberty. Liberty is not a prize, it is a condition of life the condition of being able to choose how one will live and of being responsible for the consequences.” [Page 28 first column] I would not say that the American model, the French, Swedish, any communist, our own, or any other model is the best we have to develop our own, we can pick the good bits from other examples as well.
We have to inspire the demand for a different outlook that would be revolutionary for this country. A cultural change that cannot be given as a prize such as a British Bill of Rights, a Constitution, or proportional representation of any variety, these are not the solutions. But the condition of life demanded by everyone is that everyone has a right to say what they think, and expect what they say to count. The things I mentioned a Constitution etc, we need anyway, and promising them can be a part of enthusing people who are demanding them. They need to be demanded as rights not given as a token. In the same way we should not be demanding jobs for all, but should be demanding a useful purpose for all. We can right now take a part in decision making process as a party by submitting our opinions to various public enquiries, local, and Kent county council consultative documents. In other words using, and developing what powers we already have to their full potential. Our meetings should aim to have purpose, not be the purpose or an obligation, and should be enjoyable, they do not always have to transact business. When they do transact business it should also be an exercise in running a meeting properly, and the business should be of interest, not the petty day-to-day running that some groups bring to meetings.
You have heard of sick building syndrome, we have sick country syndrome it has always been so its not just Thatcherism. Whatever you chose to protest against, if you can be bothered, such as stop roads being built through natural country side, Band the Bomb, or whatever else, the establishment will never let you win.
The one exception was the repeal of poll tax. The Tories claim to be the party of low taxation, they would say it was politically important that ordinary people won the battle for lower taxes. Their purpose was to ensure that the argument that flat rate taxes are unfair, was largely replaced by there own. Therefore re-enforcing the lesson that, there is no point in resisting you will never win, and you won’t capture much public support anyway.
The repeal of Poll tax was a token victory (an exception that proves the rule). The changes I would like to see can only occur if we are confident that we can change things for the better, and more, we should assume these rights as if we always had them. They are available if you can confidently express yourself anyway. We should have respect for knowledge, experience, expertise, enthusiasm, but should question authority, and imposed solutions. I will stop at this point and ask how do you change people?
My answer to the question is: Change yourself.
Andrew Lohmann 03-02-95