Coronavirus with all the restrictions and even lockdowns imposed have changed our way of life, and some of the changes will be irrevocable. Many pubs will stay shut never to open again and even working life and travel patterns will be permanently altered for many. But it’ll also impact upon our democracy and that’s where I’ve concerns.
2022’s the centenary of the historic election that saw a Labour breakthrough in the UK, with the ILP and Red Clydesiders coming to the fore in Scotland. It was the first election fought under the full franchise for men, though women shamefully had to wait a while longer for equality.
Political activity as we now know it really began then with the Labour Movement mobilising its strength in the shipyards and industrial sites, along with political activism in the community especially amongst women. The media was different, not necessarily more balanced, but with easier access to communicate directly with communities and perhaps a more level playing field than exists today.
But what now? Silo living, as has been the lot for many of us, has the ability to alter political views and not simply in the for and against restrictions debate. To be fair some changes were underway before the virus struck but its accelerated or compounded them.
For politics is a learned habit not simply in going to the ballot box. Who you voted for was often passed down through the generations, as was Labour voting in my family and many others. That was then added to by work, where trade union membership was demanded or just encouraged. Even socialising had an impact as pubs, clubs and co-ops could imbibe a solidarity and encourage participation and support. The sense of solidarity was tangible and the encouragement and even pressure could be loud and sometimes even severe.
Now changes in employment had been well underway with large site employers vastly reduced and trade union membership becoming significantly white collar. The gig economy and other social and economic changes scattering people to the wind and often isolating them. But coronavirus has added to that a thousand-fold. Living in a silo, restricted in contact to close family and friends, where you went and who you might meet vastly limited. Camaraderie, expectations and even ability to find out or learn are restricted.
The media had been changing but again coronavirus seems to have compounded it. The mainstream press is far less influential in so many ways. Social media has transformed the situation. Notionally it’s a leveller but the ability to access platforms and even push information’s still heavily dependent on finance. Moreover, the ability to distort and spread disinformation’s now even a threat to national security.
So where does that leave democracy a century on? In a far weaker place and where the ability of working people to organise is greatly constrained and the ability of a few to manipulate is far greater. The USA with a low turnout and manipulation shows what can happen. We should beware.