4 November 2009

The blog is more powerful than the vote

Since I was old enough to vote, I have done my democratic duty at every election (as far as I can remember) and, quite consistently, I've felt let down. No matter who I voted for, they never delivered in the longer-term. The pre-election promises were always overwhelmed by the post election horse-trading. But, on the up-side, I felt like I was being a truly democratic person - my vote earned me the right to bitch and moan about whatever the dingbat of the time was doing.

And bitch and moan I did, and that did less for me than my vote had done. I voted and political life went on regardless. I moaned and political life went on regardless. Politicians still helped themselves to the taxpayer's gravy and they made absolutely damn sure that they weren't accountable. You see, the con-trick in our 'advanced' democracy is to let everyone think that, once every 5 years, they can have a say. 'Cast your vote and enable your democracy'. What they mean is 'cast your vote and shut up for the next 5 years whilst we screw you, and if you get really lucky, you might enjoy it, but don't hold your breath'.

And then I discovered blogging. If I look back, the blog was driven by events that made me mad. I started Muck&Brass when I heard the then chair of Somerton Town Council explain the extent to which the community was going to be excluded from the Community Hall project. But the energy dissipated quite quickly and the blog fell silent for a while. Then there were rumours of the Etsome Terrace/Tin Dunny swap and that got me going again. And that was when I discovered that a blog, allied to even the most basic research, made a powerful tool.

After that, a lot of the frustration that I felt just melted away. I was able to focus on the things that really annoyed me and, if not change them, then at least name them. Magic! Now I could do the research, find out how much the Precept had been hiked in the last 10 years, make a graphic and show people how they were being reamed. It was a revelation. OK, so it didn't change things, at least not immediately, but I felt far better and the process felt a lot more constructive than standing around moaning whilst waiting for the next pointless ballot box.

I have to say at this point that I didn't set out to bring down Somerton Town Council. Nothing could be further from the truth. I thought that, if I was lucky, I'd shift the direction a few points this way or a few points that way. The mass resignation, when it came, came as much of a shock to me as it probably did to everyone else. And I still don't think that Muck&Brass was anything more than a catalyst. Muck&Brass only voiced what many local people had been saying for ever, that the Town Council was doing its thing in complete isolation from the community. And it was that aspect of the Town Council's character, that self-reverential pomposity, that was its undoing. Eventually the community became seriously dissatisfied and, at the same time, the Town Council endeavored to ignore that dissatisfaction.

So there was a happy coincidence of events - the Town Council ignoring the community, the community becoming dissatisfied and then Muck&Brass popped up with its cheeky brand of irreverent fun mixed in with hard facts plus a bit of commentary and opinion. This recipe cooked for a little while and then blew with the result that we saw on the evening of the 27th. A real team effort. Go Somerton!

And now I've also seen the political establishment's response. Originally some members of the Council sought to use Muck&Brass as a conduit but, as the cake began to rise, they stepped back and aligned themselves with the old-guard. When the lid blew off the whole dynamic changed. Instead of being a 'mechanism for change' which might deliver opportunity, Muck&Brass is probably now being seen as a threat because, in some eyes, Muck&Brass has achieved what the ballot could not or, maybe more accurately, Muck&Brass achieved change without the ballot box.

Now I don't really believe this view because, from where I was sitting, it was the community who started to question the Council and the Council, for its part, couldn't take the heat. But some believe that the blog was the culprit and I'm sure that there are those in the political establishment who will take a very dim view of this development. Maybe bloggers will be the new Taliban. But do I care?

Till next time.