“You can please all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time; but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” So don’t try. Govern instead.
Political apathy is a sign of the times, not least in the dis-United Kingdom, where 66% of people turned out to vote in what has been described as a sea-change in British politics – although 34% still chose not to vote. The 66% dithered right up until when the electoral bell tolled. It seems that party politics of the left-versus-the-right kind has had its day and what people actually want is good governance. They may not get it.
Socially, government has only to get it right on five fronts: education, employment, housing, health, and pensions. It’s that simple. Yet, most governments screw up. Government policy is often sidetracked by less altruistic concerns such as national identity – who benefits from the government’s far-sighted decision-making or, to put it the other way around, who are the scapegoats for the government’s ineptitude?; international relationships – who are our real friends and allies and who are our enemies? (just because we’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get us); and nationality – which can be a source of solidarity for those who see themselves as being in the same boat or a crude rallying cry against people of other appearances and beliefs.
Unity is another of those imponderables that upset government policy. In its broadest sense, the unity of a country must involve everyone who has at heart its prosperity and survival. But it is often used in a narrow, nationalistic sense of “us and not them”, i.e. unity and all the benefits it brings with it for those who share our views but not otherwise. This is short-sighted and unworthy of a nation that claims to pride itself on fairness and justice.
And then there is the European Union. British history is scarred with battles against other European countries with whom, come the 20th century, Britain stood shoulder to shoulder to tackle the scourge of fascism. It was inevitable and necessary that enmity should be replaced with cooperation and, since 1973, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has been part of the European Community, which became the European Union in 1993. To many it is patently absurd to keep sticking two fingers up to a vital relationship. The words of John Donne – slightly paraphrased – come to mind:
“No island is an island entire of itself; every island is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.”
In the general election, one or two clods have been washed away, and the UK’s newly re-elected Prime Minister, David Cameron, has pledged to renegotiate Britain’s place in the European Union and to hold a referendum on the outcome before the end of 2017. Most people with an ounce of commonsense know that to leave would be an economic, political, and social catastrophe for Britain, certainly leading to isolation and conceivably to ruination. Why? Because Britain simply cannot go it alone. It is too weak. But there is a further important consideration: Britain could play a key role – as a genuine partner – in ensuring that the European Union itself remains viable and on track. It cannot do so from the outside.
As for “the British people”, for whom David Cameron has expressed great fondness, is it in anyone’s interests or to anyone’s benefit to disunite the Kingdom? To devolve power over decision-making in ways that are democratic and politically modern makes sense, but surely not to fragment the country. This is not a matter of historical continuity or a misplaced sense of nostalgia, but of pragmatic sustainability.
Circumstances have conspired to give Cameron an opportunity to take the middle road (now called a “real party of working people”), which all political parties have been advocating since the invention of New Labour. And specifically with regard to unity, while respecting anti-unionist Scots’ views and determining how to address them constructively, Cameron must keep the United Kingdom whole and not pander to outmoded party politics. “All for one and one for all!”, despite that motto having immigrated from Britain’s sparring partner across the Channel.
To return to education, employment, housing, health, and pensions – in other words, the economy, public spending, and taxation: austerity for the majority and prosperity for a tiny minority is not good governance. Genuinely democratic policies benefitting the whole country would transform Great Britain and go a long way towards creating an indissolubly re-United Kingdom.
“And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”