Minding our (democratic) language

By Jill Segger
May 11, 2010

The abrupt brutality of the first-past-the-post system has not prepared us for anything other than the rapid and emotionally charged transfer of power. The defeated Prime Minister is filmed leaving for the Palace; the removal vans draw up in Downing Street. The winners strut and celebrate; the defeated seek sufficient time and privacy to re-order their lives and ambitions.

The public and some politicians and commentators are finding it difficult to adjust to the new reality. The language used reflects insecurity and in many instances, a peevish impatience, that desires and expectations have not been served up complete and tidy.

Horse-trading; wheeling and dealing; deals behind closed doors; shambles; alliance of losers. These are all emotionally weighted phrases which reflect the public mistrust of politicians. And there is admittedly, something disconcerting about watching expensively-suited power shuttling around Whitehall in its limousines as it searches for a working agreement which will permit the business of government to continue.

But apply realism and choose the language more thoughtfully, and a more objective take on this period of transition and opportunity emerges. This is a situation with which many of us are familiar in our own professional and personal lives. It could be summed up as accepting that you don't always get everything you want. Negotiation, by definition, entails compromise. Of course, the nature of that compromise has huge significance and every individual and corporate entity must have a “here I stand. I can do no other” point. The political parties have contested the election on their specific platforms and they now have to accept that the verdict of the electorate requires them to seek whatever consensus does not do unacceptable violence to principle. And as their representatives go into conclave with the voices of democrats on the streets (http://www.takebackparliament.com/hope) ringing in their ears, the chances of them doing that are increased.

If the language used were to be less loaded, realistic dialogue would be easier. Negotiation is not automatically the unprincipled activity suggested by phrases such as “horse-trading”. For security and confidence, the discussions have to take place behind “closed doors” - who would wish to see the future of our governance discussed on a bus or in the pub? The time for openness will come and it is likely that the various democratic movements which have done so much to energise the electorate will see that the right level of disclosure of the process is made.

This is a unique situation in our democratic life. It is the time for patience and for realism. The maps are going to have to be re-written and at this pivotal moment patience and vigilance is the duty of democratic citizens. The pressure coming from vested interests – most notably from the City - must be resisted. One of the reasons our democratic and financial condition is in such a parlous state is the historically supine attitude of the main parties towards the interests of big finance and big business. This, of all times, is not the occasion to allow them to dictate the processes of democracy.

It is time to be adult. Few of us are going to be without some degree of disappointment over the coming days. Let us not be without hope

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.