It’s fair to say that over the past few years there has been a growing feeling of disillusionment with western democracy. This political skepticism, which may once have been confined to an underprivileged underclass, is rapidly becoming a widely accepted notion as the public are increasingly exposed to examples of deceit and corruption that lie at the heart of these democratic systems.
It’s not difficult to understand why people in the UK, particularly the young, have come to believe that attempting to engage with the current political system is a futile pursuit. The result of the 2010 election highlighted the fallible integrity of this country’s political system, as thousands who supported the Liberal Democrats saw their votes go towards the establishment of a Tory-led coalition. The Lib Dem’s failure to live up to their promise not to raise tuition fees, one of the policies that gained them support among young people, is a perfect example of why many feel their vote was meaningless. In some sense, the First-Past-The-Post voting system used in this country has always truly prevented the votes of individuals from being meaningful at all.
These notable flaws in the fairness of the political system have certainly caused disillusionment among some, but this is a mild grumbling compared with the international outrage that recent revelations of mass government surveillance by the whistle-blower Edward Snowden. The former contractor of the US National Security agency is said to have leaked up to 200,000 classified documents to the media, revealing that the NSA have been tapping the phone calls and tracking the internet activity of bureaucrats and political leaders, as well as citizens, on an inconceivably large scale.
Newspapers like the Guardian have fallen under heavy government fire for extensive coverage of the Snowden leaks, which have also revealed information on the surveillance activities of GCHQ, the British intelligence agency. Such newspapers have been accused of hurting the country’s national security, with David Cameron claiming that if they could not ‘demonstrate some social responsibility’ the government would be forced to intervene. These threats seem to completely defy the notion of ‘free press’, which is meant to be fundamental to the UK’s democratic system.
If the surveillance activities documented by Snowden showed that the NSA and GCHQ were devoted to nothing more than ensuring national security and protection against acts of terrorism, then surely they would widely be met with understanding and support from the public. But that is simply not the case. These revelations certainly undermine the legitimacy of the democratic system, highlighting the fact that those in power will always strive to keep details about the workings of the state tightly under wraps. And when someone messes with the established status-quo and attempts to inform people government officials of all political persuasions rally together to condemn them. It is hard to believe that any political party represents our right for knowledge, or that any party that comes into power will ever let us know what’s really going on.
These revelations seem to have served as a wake-up call for many, with a ‘them-and-us’ attitude towards the government and powerful corporations taking a firmer hold of people every day. Young people in particular, with their constant exposure to social media, seem to be becoming increasingly aware of the inadequacy of the democratic system under which we live. Political battles between rival parties are beginning to seem nothing but a pathetic façade to distract the public from the fact that they have no real power to change anything, with the constant threat of terrorism being used to explain away government mass surveillance of its citizens.
In light of this, it is no surprise to see the amount of support that emerging anarchist groups who stand against corporate and government deceit are receiving. Hacktavist group Anonymous – a leaderless network of anti-censorship activists and internet hackers who have been responsible for attacks on the websites of government, corporate and religious organisations – is among the most well-known of these organisations. Many people view Anonymous as freedom fighters, battling to expose the truths of transparent governments to the public. The online organisation Wiki-Leaks which publishes classified information and news leaks, and has allegedly received many disclosures from Anonymous, has also received praise for its efforts to provide the public with information.
With snowballing awareness of government corruption and cumulative frustration at harsh and seemingly perpetual economic disparity, the idea of revolution does not seem as absurd and impossible as it did a few years ago. In his recent interview with Jeremy Paxman, comedian Russell Brand discussed the apathy of the current political system; he encouraged people to stop voting and called for revolution. This interview gained instant and widespread attention, reaching over 9 million YouTube views. Brand’s ideas, it seems, did not only resonate with the ‘underprivileged underclass’, but also seemed to gain huge support from a young audience of all classes, who helped give the interview mass social media exposure.
This extended support of revolutionary ideas among young people, even from those not so badly damaged by the economic disparity that they could watch the interview on their IPhones, shows that a sense of political skepticism and frustration is not just confined to the worst off but is fast becoming the general consensus. There is undeniably a growing feeling among the youth – who do not share the ingrained and unquestioning acceptance that older generations might – that the current political system is disingenuous and inadequate, and as Brand says, ‘if we can engage that feeling, and change things, why wouldn’t we?’.