Mark Steel: It's people who bring about change

Share
Related Topics

All those scenes from Cairo of mass demonstrations look like the perfect expression of the big society. So we can only assume David Cameron wants us to try something similar here. It would certainly encourage more people to take an interest in politics. Instead of complaining that kids show no interest in the political process when they are asked to study details of local government boundary changes, teachers could say: "Today we're going to find out how new governments are formed" and get the class to stand on a tank in Trafalgar Square.

Because what makes politics seem "boring" to most people is that it is presented as being all about politicians. It's the bits of newspapers that go: "A source close to the Liberal Democrats' agriculture spokesman confirmed to me yesterday that the Minister for Furniture could be moved sideways to the Department of Insects, in a move that would strengthen the section of the party grouped around ex-leader the late Mr Gladstone." This is why successful documentaries about great political events tend to be those about Martin Luther King or Gandhi, rather than the unexpected midterm reshuffle under Harold Wilson.

The problem of convincing people there is a reason to take an interest in politicians is greater now than ever, because they themselves don't know what they stand for. So they make speeches where they say: "The reason I joined this party is because I believe in people", as if a different party would say: "Well we disagree because we prefer ocelots."

And the differences are even harder to explain now because they all seem to stand for the same ideas, with tiny differences, so Labour will say the programme of cuts is outrageous because while they would have done much the same themselves, they would have started them on a Wednesday. To get teenagers to take an interest in elections you have to say: "You should care because, for example on the issue of tuition fees, one party says they should be trebled, whereas this party here says they should be scrapped and will then change their mind after the election and THEN say they should be trebled. So it's your life that is affected."

But from time to time, a vast group becomes aware it can influence events if it connects with a popular cause. So most of the great changes in recent years have happened as a result of the actions of people outside formal politics. For example, people who suggest protest doesn't change anything presumably think that apartheid was ended because Nelson Mandela wrote a particularly well-drafted piece of legislation, which he presented to a select committee, and it was so persuasive that the old prime minister ran out of the room and the Afrikaaner leaders screamed: "It's such wonderful prose" and shot themselves.

When protest becomes revolution, the process can become historic. So in any mass revolt against a bullying regime, huge numbers who have given little indication that they have any interest in "politics" are transformed. Pamphlets written by those involved are read by hundreds of thousands and their speeches listened to by millions. Meetings are attended by hundreds, eager to add their voices because now it matters what they say, and what they decide.

And that terrifies many rulers, which is why so many are screaming that the result of Egypt's current revolt could be "an Islamic state", although no one involved is calling for that. But this is the stock argument now against almost every popular movement, and soon every time a group of residents in a village hold a protest against the closure of a library, Cameron will say: "It's all very well signing their petition, but there's a good deal of evidence that if they get their way Diddlecock Green could be turned into an Islamic state."

In fact, the Big Society taking place in Egypt means for a moment that the place has become the most democratic country on the planet.



React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Full Stack Developer (.NET 4.0, ASP.NET, MVC, Ajax, WCF,SQL)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Full Stack ...

AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - Investment Management

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - I...

Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pillar 1, 2 & 3) Insurance

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pilla...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
India's philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist Vandana Shiva arrives to give a press conference focused on genetically modified seeds on October 10, 2012  

Meet Vandana Shiva: The deserving heir to Mahatma Ghandi's legacy

Peter Popham
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn