Sunday, 15 August 2010

Being the Change

I go through spells with politics. Sometimes I am fired up with the enthusiasm of believing it to be a worthwhile pursuit, my idealistic, optimistic side pushing me to believe that the impossible can be achieved through common endeavour and humanity’s limitless potential. Other times, I struggle to see the point of the whole process, losing touch with its purpose and instead becoming immersed in my own lack of importance, dissatisfaction with the political world and lack of energy.
I have recently been stuck in the latter cycle. I don’t know why exactly, but my motivation to be involved in politics has been at rock bottom. I haven’t been involved in my local party activity and have allowed the Labour Leadership campaign to pass me by entirely; I haven’t blogged in months; and even my following of political developments has been disjointed and negligible. Effectively I haven’t cared, losing any motivation to be involved under a morass of sapped energy and sheer feduppedness.

Being in Belfast for the last couple of days with my Fellows has changed that. In a very stimulating debate about the impact of cuts on public services, every single point was political, every single solution was political. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, politics is the cause and solution of all life’s problems.

This was rammed home even more powerfully by taking a walk around the section dedicated to the The Troubles in the excellent Ulster Museum. Politics, in all its glory and shame, is documented across the walls of the room in unavoidable form. There is the tragedy of those killed, the bravery of those willing to make decisions unpalatable to the communities they represented, the cowardice of those who refused to listen to those selfsame communities. We take so much for granted about Northern Ireland, allowing the horror of those years to quickly slip unremembered amidst the normality of peace, yet with recent developments we must always remember the sacrifices that were made, and the progress which was secured. We in the Labour Party should be proud of the achievements of Tony Blair and his Government, a pinnacle of triumph in his premiership – yet we should also discard the veil of partisanship and recognise the achievements of John Major, for whom compromise with the IRA in particular was a painful political decision given the loss which his own party had experienced to bombs previously. Yet his decision helped to shape the environment for the Good Friday agreement, allowing for change and progress to occur.

Yet most of all, above the contributions of the British, Irish and American Governments, was the political push made in Northern Ireland itself. The movement by David Trimble and John Hume, crossing the divide to deliver for their people, restores faith in humanity. Despite differences which seem irreconcilable, peace can be delivered, eventually resulting in the surreal and previously unthinkable reality of Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness sharing power, happy Chuckle Brothers working together (however limited the real impact of that work).

All of this was politics. All of this reflected political decisions, shaped by community and social pressures but delivered through the democratic process of politics. All of it is a welcome slap to the chops for the disillusioned onlooker like me, wallowing in self-pity about the impact politics can have. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to imply that I can have an impact on the world like the Good Friday agreement. However I can guarantee that I won’t if I spend my whole time moaning and contributing. Politics is the means by which humanity changes, progresses and shapes the world around it. It is the way in which society can change for better and for worse, and it continues inescapably whether I choose to participate or not. It offers us the potential to make the world a better a place, whether that be in the massive ways of Northern Ireland, South Africa or the creation of the Welfare State in post-war Britain; or the more modest (but no less important) ways of changing our local communities, helping our fellow citizens or promoting tolerance, progress and pro social thinking.

So, the moral of my trip is to get my finger out and get involved. If I believe in this process, which I do, then I need to justify this belief, I need to fight for it and deliver it. I am lucky enough to be in a position whereby I actually can participate, through my work and my personal political involvement. There is a major election coming up next year in Scotland, and I want to be a part of that. There is a Coalition Government implementing decisions for this country whilst the Opposition challenges them, and I want to be a part of that. There is a debate taking place about the future of my political party, and I want to be a part of that.

The call to action is that we need to be the change we want to see in society. It’s about time I lived up to that challenge.