It’s a fairly widespread idea that there is a ‘political vacuum’ in the UK at the moment. Party membership is a fraction of what it was in the past, the Labour Party is widely perceived to have given up on trying to represent ‘labour’ in any meaningful way, but no force to its left has been able to replace it. The conservatives are riding high on exactly the sort of ‘dispense-with-the-faithful-hardliners-to-appeal-to-the-swing-voters’ telegenic charisma that Blair used to buy power for Labour at the cost of its soul. The only issue that really seems to energise people is to ensure that nobody votes for the BNP.
Some people are worried that this will lead people to become increasingly ‘apolitical’ – or worse, ‘anti-political’. But this word has two meanings.
The meaning that’s usually intended is insular, inward-looking apathy: to reject ‘politics’ in the sense of a public space in which people can be concerned with one another’s welfare and feel part of something bigger than themselves.
But who decides that such an empowering space has any connection to the goings-on at Westminster? Many anarchists and general raggedy-haired lefties actively promote the idea of ‘anti-politics’, meaning by that a rejection of ‘politics’ in the sense of a domain defined both by excluding ‘the public’ and being concerned with ‘the public’ – i.e. various people in offices managing you.
Now, a response to the crisis (economic, political, environmental, whatever) might be political in both sense: masses of people pour their heartfelt energies into organising, campaigning, and pushing a politician into power and enthusing about their plans and how they will save the day.
Or it might be anti-political in both senses, simply by giving up and deciding the play computer games instead.
It might be political in the first sense, and anti-political in the second: a group of self-serving, inward-looking greasy-pole climbers rush headlong into government, having all sorts of fun, snorting crack off the belly of the working class.
Or it might be political in the first sense and anti-political in the second: people become enthused about working together to solve their common problems and struggle side-by-side, but involving the houses of parliament and the political parties only for as long as it takes to stop by and drop off some gunpowder.
How to ensure that responses take the fourth form? That is the million-pound-question.