Amy Rushton: See No Evil? It’s Time for Britain to Wake Up to its Own Democratic Crisis

Image Credit: John Meed
Image Credit: John Meed

Oh 2016, I don’t know what I’m more fed up with: waking up bitterly disappointed yet unsurprised at the success of racist, xenophobic, misogynist, faux anti-establishment elites or hearing people express surprise at the success of racist, xenophobic, misogynist, faux anti-establishment elites. My response to the ever patronising jibes about ‘those crazy Yanks!’ is, well, at least Trump was elected into office, unlike two of the three most recent governments in Britain. No one voted for a Con-Lib Dem coalition; Theresa May’s government was imposed after the EU referendum. As scary as it is to have Republican control of the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives, at least they were elected. Decisions about Britain’s future are currently being made without open debate, such as the cabinet’s refusal to disclose anything significant about Britain’s extraction from the EU. Meanwhile we have a foreign secretary who sees no need to participate in a Europe-wide meeting about the changing political landscape.

Our expectations of democracy in Britain are incredibly low: look at the teeth-gnashing and wailing over a parliamentary debate about Article 50 (part of the Lisbon Treaty, a EU law provision which allows for ‘any Member State […] to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements). The right-wing press descended into a paranoid frenzy that a simple debate would somehow result in parliament voting for a reversal to ‘Leave’ the EU (an outcome that is unlikely since most MPs have said that they’ll represent the majority votes of their constituencies). Since the summer, ‘our’ government has already attacked the NHS and migrants’ rights, moves made with minimum exposure. Last week, Dianne Ngoza — a Zambian nurse who has lived in Britain for 14 years and is a tireless volunteer in the Manchester community — was detained when she went to report at Dallas Court in Salford. Dianne has been destitute for six years due to a series of errors by immigration solicitors. She made a new application for leave to remain in the UK four months ago but this was rejected by the Home Office. She is currently in detention in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, Bedfordshire, and the Home Office plan to deport her. Dianne has a right to appeal the Home Office’s decision, but has been told she must appeal from Zambia. Dianne has not lived in Zambia for more than 20 years and has no family or contacts there. Her daughter and her friends are in Britain. This is her home. New legislation will make appeals much more difficult from December.

Like so many of us, I have felt despair at the events of 2016. The day after the EU referendum, though I was not surprised by the outcome, something snapped inside me and I could not see a way forward. When I woke up to the news of the US election results, I felt worried for Muslims, racialised people, LGBTQ communities, and progressive activists across the US fighting for black lives, reproductive rights, and equality. I have felt battered by an openly racist, misogynistic media and a British society which is mostly self-interested, sexist and racist. Jeremy Corbyn’s silence has disappointed me. I gave him the benefit of the doubt after the EU referendum, but Corbyn’s unwillingness to speak in terms other than expressing concern for ‘those left behind’ seemed indicative of the narrow-minded and historically disengaged discussion on the left. This is a discussion that Wildcat was founded to push back against. I’m all for militant optimism, but not at the expense of ignoring, and thus inevitably perpetuating, hateful behaviour and violence.

At the end of 2016, I find myself ready to talk again and to listen more closely — but not to those who shout loudest. I am not interested in what Trump, Farage, Johnson, Le Pen have to say. Nor am I interested in pointing and laughing at them because this just makes them appear less threatening. I want to hear from those who directly speak out against these dark political forces. I want to listen to the experiences of those who are affected by this geopolitical turn. We must turn away from those shouting abuse and engage instead with their targets.

When I look back at 2016, it won’t be the year of handwringing and political despair. It will be the moment I learnt what it really means to fight for human dignity and demand more from democracy.
For more information Dianne Ngoza’s case, please visit RAPAR: Dignity for Dianne!

Please do share Dianne’s story wherever you can.
Amy Rushton is a lecturer at Nottingham Trent University

  1. Many thanks indeed for this excellent article. I'm not sure, though, it's wholly accurate to say that Trump and the Republican Congress were 'elected'. True, some people cast some votes and then some other people won some seats/won the presidency. But the connection between these things is, to say the least, far from straightforward. We need to find a way, I think, of emphasising that first-past-the-post voting systems (US Congress, UK Parliament, etc, etc, etc) are undemocratic and anti-progressive and that the irrelevance of the 'popular vote' (i.e., what people actually voted for) in the US presidential election is absurd in a putatively democratic system, while also acknowledging that it's a big problem that a lot of people did indeed vote for lunatic candidates. And also, of course, that PR systems don't necessarily return progressive representative bodies...

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