The Downsides of Democracy, Introducing Corbyn 2.0, and My Quest Not to Become Eeyore

By Bush, Stephen | New Statesman (1996), January 6, 2017 | Go to article overview

The Downsides of Democracy, Introducing Corbyn 2.0, and My Quest Not to Become Eeyore


Bush, Stephen, New Statesman (1996)


I saw in the New Year in Shepherd's Bush, the west London suburb that gave me my surname. In the 1930s, my great-grandfather feared that Adolf Hitler would cross the Channel, so he abandoned our Jewish surname of Shimanski and took on the name of the shop that he owned: Bush Stores. "Being Jewish," the novelist Linda Grant observed, "does teach you that there isn't always a happy ending."

As it happened, for my great-grandfather, there was a happy ending: survival, grandchildren, eventually a great-grandson, a budgerigar that terrified the said grandson, and eventually, a death, of natural causes. But for other members of our family the story ended in extinction.

Perhaps that's why the New Year message of one political journalist stuck in my craw. On his personal Facebook page, he condemned those mourning the events of 2016 for attacking "expressions of democracy", and vowed that journalists, by holding power "to account", could achieve a better 2017 than the doomsters predicted.

We should never forget that George Wallace and Indira Gandhi both won democratic elections--in Alabama and India, respectively--before engaging in acts of repression and undemocratic activity once they were installed in power. Vladimir Putin, too, came to power in a democratic election. And Hitler, whose rise necessitated my family's rebrand, seized power by democratic means. All four owed their rise to popular discontent with the ruling class; yet none was or is particularly inconvenienced by journalists attempting to hold them to account. That America's terrifying new president is the victor in a free and fair election doesn't change the fact he may signal the end of democracy at home and the collapse of the global order abroad.

Trump and Brexit

In the West, 2016 was marked by the deaths of many notable artists and actors, a side effect of our ageing society. We may not have reached "peak death" of well-preserved octogenarians and hard-living fifty-somethings, but we are not far off.

However, something I hope does breathe its last in 2017 is the easy comparison between Donald Trump and Britain's Brexit vote. Optimists hope Brexit will make Britain a more prosperous and contented nation outside the European Union; pessimists fear it will make us poorer and weaker. But the best-case Trump scenario is that he merely uses the fruits of the presidency to further enrich himself and his family. The worst case is global catastrophe.

The superficial attraction of the comparison has moved from irritating to dangerous: it is blinding large parts of the British establishment to the dangers of Trump.

Brexit at the Tate

What I like about the festive season is that the capital empties out, allowing canny Londoners to enjoy the city's attractions without having to endure long queues or navigate thick crowds. Not this year, though: the collapse in the value of the pound has been a boon for the British tourist trade, with domestic holidaymakers staying here to avoid the punishing exchange rate and foreign visitors rushing to take advantage. …

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