The People


I’m often struck by how those who most regularly claim to speak on behalf of ‘the People’ are, most frequently, those who hold the people in the most contempt.

Here’s an example of what I mean. Today the Guardian has published an ICM poll showing the gap between Labour and the Conservatives down to just 5%. The Conservatives are up a little, Labour are down a little. Ho hum.

But note the reaction. The comments sections on Guardian pages are usually full of people fuming about the latest evil assault of Cameron, Gideon, and the ConDems on ‘the people’. Yet this empathy with the people vanishes as soon as it appears they might disagree as the following comments show

“If true, this is evidence of the fickleness and irresponsibility of the public even for its own well-being – incredibly depressing”

“I saw a guy on our local ‘Sunday Politics’ segment yesterday who was working as a city street cleaner. When asked, he said he was vehemently anti-EU. What bet he reads the Sun or something such like?”

“What have these fannies done within the last 3 months for the electorate to suddenly swing in favour of them? Or is it just another case of dumb floating voters proving yet again that they’re unworthy of a vote?”

“And the British public shows how easily led it is.”

“I despair. Are voters really that stupid?”

“…yes, in a word!”

“Nothing like a bit of flag waving to distract the proles from their woes.”

“If people were willing to think rationally, it would be impossible to reach any other conclusion, but they’re not: they blame immigrants and people poorer than themselves. I know it beggars belief, but they really, really do. You just want to shake the British public.”

This strain of thought on the left goes back at least to Marx. He cooked up the idea that any member of the working class who perceived their interests differently from how he perceived them was suffering from ‘false consciousness’, a miserable notion that has allowed generations of Marxists and leftists more generally to rationalise the divergence between what is and what their theory tells them should be by blaming the people for not behaving as they should.

I remember a poem by Bertolt Brecht;

After the uprising of the 17th of June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?


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