With the general election only 7 months away, it’s time we started talking politics. In the first instalment of our ‘Elections for Dummies’ column, sub-editor Shaun Balderson starts at the very beginning: What actually is politics?
In the midst of hangovers equivalent to the atomic bomb and feeling ‘tender’ whilst studying in lectures, we tend to drift in and out of social and political awareness. In this mini series for [smiths], dubbed as ‘elections for dummies’ we will explore some basic yet crucial concepts within the world of politics in preparation for the general election next year.
Firstly, what is politics? There may not be a definitive answer to this question. In its simplest form, politics is about governing, public affairs, individual actions and collective, the gaining of power, and the reaching of compromise. If we look to the Dictionary definition, to be ‘politic’ is to ‘seem sensible and judicious in the circumstances’ or to be ‘prudent and sagacious.’ ‘Politics’ itself is defined as ‘the activities associated with the governance of a country or area, especially the debate between parties having power.’ Whether politicians are indeed politic, however, is a different question entirely.
Politics as government or governing encompasses the political elite and established institutions such as MP’s, Parliament, the executive (cabinet) and civil service – essentially concerning political decisions. Those institutions and people are in authority whether they got there by winning an election, through appointment, by inheritance, or other means. Issues regarding legitimacy, efficiency and substantive representation are often raised with regards to who is in power and how they’ve been appointed to power. More recently, concerns have been raised over the lack of descriptive representation such as class or income, as well as the lack of diversity in gender, age and ethnicity. Quintessentially, parliament is an orgy of old, white, Eton- and Oxford-educated men.
Politics involves public affairs; it’s not simply about the powers, legislation and ideological disputes in parliament. However, there is a more exciting, less architected and spun politics. As parliament and contemporary politics continues to propagate the dichotomy between the governing and the governed, it’s important to add emphasis to the profound things individuals and groups do within the globes of the political sphere.
Firstly, as a singular, atomised, non-hermit agent of political belief, we interact with other human beings. Our political actions unavoidably and categorically effect the action and ideologies of others. Buying non-animal tested cosmetics, not eating meat or growing body hair can be as important as a bunch of rich white old men discussing taxes. Human beings, by acting for what they believe in, can be the most formidable and crucial aspect of politics and political culture.
When organised, this force, as empirically evident throughout history, is striking. The collective actions of congregations of individuals with similar beliefs into non-institutional organisations, such as pressure groups and activist unions consistently impress a lasting impression in the political sphere. It’s argued the one place to visit before you die, is not the Conservative party headquarters or the House of Lords, but the epicentre of a mass protest.
Politics never will be unilaterally centralised to the vacuum of government. Politics is an overlapping synthesis of important individual and collective practises – the political culture of society, with the legislative body.
Finally, politics involves a struggle for power and a search for compromise. Politics involving power is based upon Aristotle’s dictum that ‘man is a political animal’. The power-dynamic is an integral part of the political process with identifiable winners and losers. It’s not necessarily violent, but politics, certainly in a historical sense, encompasses an everlasting struggle for power. In a democracy, it might be said this due to living in a society with as many people as opinions, if we wish to live in peace and continue with democratic practices, we must learn to compromise.
Photography sourced from Creative Commons.