Imagine going naked onto a battlefield every day of your life. Imagine being a civilian caught up in the collateral damage of professional warriors. Imagine having to swallow the ideology of people who claim to know what’s best for you.
Imagine, if you will, a war where you have no place which is not that of passive observer; where the stray bullets kill your desire to live even when they miss you by a mile; where the powerful have the whole bloody armoury in their possession and all you can do is observe their trigger-happy antics.
Imagine, in fact, what it must have been like to live in a Sarajevo under siege:
The siege of Sarajevo, as it came to be popularly known, was an episode of such notoriety in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia that one must go back to World War II to find a parallel in European history. Not since then had a professional army conducted a campaign of unrelenting violence against the inhabitants of a European city so as to reduce them to a state of medieval deprivation in which they were in constant fear of death. In the period covered in this Indictment, there was nowhere safe for a Sarajevan, not at home, at school, in a hospital, from deliberate attack.
— Prosecution Opening Statement, ICTY vs Stanislav Galić, 2003
It’s nowhere near the same in latterday British politics, of course. Not yet, anyhow. Not for a while. Or is it?
In a way, in a very figurative way that is, perhaps it really is the same. Perhaps that’s why we hate our politicians so very much. And, in a very great sense, we are wrong to blame them for it.
I am minded to voice the above thoughts on the back of this piece by Gloria de Piero over at Labour List at the moment. In it, she describes the results of a poll she commissioned which revealed that a quarter of people interviewed would – in what is admittedly a rather hypothetical context – seriously consider becoming an MP:
Imagine you were in your thirties or forties, and friends of yours suggested you should stand for election to become an MP. What do you think your reaction would be?
Enthusiatic: I’d definitely consider standing – 6%
Interested: I might consider standing – 18%
Total enthusiastic/interested – 24 %
And this is the conclusion she comes to as a result (the bold is mine):
To end on a positive note – the good news for the Labour Party is that of those that voted for the Labour Party at the 2010 election, Labour voters were most likely to be enthusiastic or interested in standing for election and we were least likely to say ‘I don’t like politicians and the way politics works’ though these figures did change when Yougov asked about future voting intention with more Lib dems saying they would want to stand. But I think there’s all to play for the People’s Party in working to create a One Nation Parliament which looks and sounds like Britain.
That bit about the Lib Dems is what caught my attention. If I’ve understood the data correctly, we’re saying here that those who must feel most frustrated at the moment – most under siege, that is, to use my opening metaphor – are those who’d most like to empower themselves through getting a direct hand on the levers (where not triggers) of power.
It’s not just the Lib Dems either. When we say how we hate politics and politicians, what we’re really saying is that we don’t like to be swept up in a war where we are only ever collateral damage; a war where we are the victims of megaphone politics; a war where a system reserves for itself a right to behave as uncooperatively as it does, without allowing affected civilians and non-combatants to arm themselves in their own defence.
It’s that level killing-field which Thatcher and Hurd refused to sanction during the Balkan conflicts: an awfully unequal hierarchy of combat, happening all over again in Cameron’s Britain.
In essence, what I’m saying here is that when de Piero’s poll indicates that a quarter of all our voters would be interested in becoming MPs, it’s not so much because they believe in the system and want to dutifully participate but – rather – precisely because they have come to conclude that the system is inevitably a war. And this 24 percent is now sufficiently unhappy with sitting passively on the outside looking in, whilst the practising politicians continue to toss fiscal, conceptual and intellectual hand grenades at this poor group or that, that they’re looking to fight back – interestingly enough, even on the terms which the existing system requires – by acquiring their own box of sufficiently inflammable and destructive political weapons.
When the Lib Dems, or indeed you or I, say we’d be interested in becoming an MP, what we’re really admitting to is being mightily fed up of being shot at.
What we’re really admitting to is that we’d much rather get the opportunity to do a bit of shooting back.
And really, what this poll is also beginning to reveal is that considerable support is building here in England for a figurative Second Amendment – in amongst the least likely of places, peoples and parties.