Making Politics Work for You

Winston Churchill, in the British House of Commons on November 11, 1947, made the following statement:

Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…”

Churchill did not originate these famous words but was quoting an unknown predecessor.1

There are three types of people in politics. First, those that make things happen. Second, those who watch what happens. And lastly, those that wonder what the hell happened. Unfortunately, the last group is by far the largest. The second largest is much smaller but still a significant number. The group that makes things happen is the tiniest group.

Those that control politics and make things happen only represents a tiny fraction of the total. This represents only around one percent of the total but is the critical portion. They participate in the political process at an elevated level. In fact, it is only perhaps 0.1 percent of this total group that controls the political process. They make campaign donations, work hard to elect their friends in primary elections, or in riding nomination meetings, in a state or provincial and national contests. They vote in almost all elections and they are organized.

Let us say the area being represented has a total population of 100,000 voters. However, many do not vote. They choose not to participate in the political system. Voter participation is frequently below 50 percent. This choice of not voting makes the power of those who vote much more important. The non-voters, by choosing to abstain from the political process or believe that their vote has little or no purpose, have no political impact. Many are uninformed about politics and do not even know who is their local representative. As a result, a small minority of voters decide the outcome.

Some individuals are anarchists and oppose organized politics. In my opinion, this avoidance of politics is a way of masking subservience to the entrenched political order. The purpose of this short article is to encourage progressive individuals to engage with politics in order to make politics work for them and for all of us.

The turnout for local elections, for example, a City Councilor is usually very low, frequently around 20 percent or even less. However, it is the beginning of the process. Even electing the lowest official is the start of building a political base, building name recognition and building networks. The other elections tend to have a higher turnout but still many do not vote. However, those that vote to control the political process and get to impose their political views on those who vote for losing candidates and on those who do not vote!

In the United States, organized politics is usually channeled through the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Some individuals run without party affiliation and get elected. Bernie Sander’s was elected in Vermont as an Independent Socialist. He allied himself with the Democratic Party and even ran a strong campaign to be the presidential candidate for the Democratic Party.

Others work with third parties like the Green Party. Even the larger parties have progressive, centrist and right wings that compete to elect their friends and supporters in the interparty elections to be able to compete in the general elections under the Party’s flag. All parties, love them or hate them, have a dedicated group that supports their friends in the various ideological factions inside the party and supports the Party in the general elections.

In Canada, there are more political parties. They are from right to left the Conservative Party, the centrist Liberal Party and a moderate socialist party called the New Democratic Party. Canada generally has a higher level of political participation somewhere in the mid 60’s percentile for national elections. There are other factors in Canada due to the large Francophone population in Quebec which, in part, supports the Bloc Quebecois. However, politics in Canada is shifting.

The Green Party, which supports more environmentally friendly policies and supports social justice issues, elected three Members of Canada’s Parliament in the 2019 General Election. The Green’s in Canada have been polling between 6 and 8 percent in national polls.2  Green candidates have also been elected in a number of Canadian provinces. This level of support can have a decisive impact on elections. It also splits the vote and can affect election outcomes.

In Canada, the Green Party is currently having an election for their national leader. The deadline for memberships is September 3, 2020. On line voting starts on September 26, 2020, and closes on October 3, 2020. Memberships are only $10 so there is little excuse for not participating. Green Party Memberships can be purchased at the following web site.  This is an excellent and rare opportunity to support a candidate who supports issues important to you and for a group of like-minded individuals to really make a difference.

Renown political operative, William M. Tweed, or Boss Tweed, once said, “I don’t care who does the electing as long as I get to do the nominating.”3 Boss Tweed and others built a political machine called “Tammany Hall”4 that dominated New York City politics from the late 1700s into the 1960s. This machine was based on control of patronage and graft and organization that could “fix” and control elections.  This is where the phrase “Machine politics” comes from. Individuals coalesced into parties to compete with other groups. A well-organized group will almost always beat an individual.

Many people do not like the idea of party politics as they are prone to corruption, nepotism and graft. The longer they stay in power, the more corrupt they tend to become. The control of the party lies with the elites and bureaucrats and not with the membership base of the party. This principle is called Robert Michel’s “Iron law of oligarchy.”  Unfortunately Michel’s “iron law” seems to be borne out.

One of the benefits of democracy is that it provides a way to change representatives periodically and it also forces the defeated party to clean up its act and renew itself to become competitive once again. It also forces the parties to evolve with the times.

Political elites and political bureaucracies control information and exert control on who gets to run as candidates and block those that they do not want. They serve as “gatekeepers.” In Canada, all of the main parties have set up a screening process for “green light” or “red light” candidates. This process is claimed to be necessary to check the background of potential candidates to make sure that they have no negative baggage like criminal records. However, this process is more of an ideological screening procedure and a device to block candidates who espouse heretical views like supporting human rights for the Palestinians.5  Having allegations of sexual assault is apparently not a problem6  but showing support for Palestinian human rights is not acceptable.7

The “progressive” New Democratic Party also has the same problem when it comes to human rights for the Palestinians. Paul Manly, the son of a former NDP Member of Parliament, was also refused as a candidate in the 2015 General Election for his support of the Palestinians.8  Manly then joined the Green Party and was elected to represent the Green Party in a 2019 By-election.9  He presently is one of three Green Members of Canada’s Parliament.

In Great Britain, the surprise election of Jeremy Corbin as leader of the Labour Party by the grassroots membership shocked the political establishment. Corbin was a socialist and strong supporter of the Palestinians. His election ignited an internal civil war within the British Labour Party and a conspiracy of Labour Party bureaucrats to lose the General Election and have Corbyn replaced as leader. Corbyn and many others were accused of being anti-Semites for their support for the Palestinians and their criticisms of Israel’s harsh policies. This sabotage may surprise some but the evidence is overwhelming.10

There are signs of a political shift in the United States, or at least the start of a beginning of a shift. The small but vocal band of women Democratic Party representatives in the US House of Representatives called the “Squad” were all reelected in their primaries despite being targeted by Conservatives and the pro-Israel lobby.11  The Republican Jewish Coalition said, “the national Democrat Party’s lurch to the Left in recent years has been extremely troubling.”1

Many individuals believe they participate in the political process. They sign the petitions, send emails to their representatives and join protest marches. Some even vote. However, these activities have little or no effect on the political process. It is only when these activities threaten to defeat the politicians that they pay attention.

There are many key pressure points in our political system. Primaries or a Nomination meeting where the candidate is selected is an important choke point. Frequently party elites select the candidate or present barriers to those who are not favored. Sometimes the Party appoints the candidate and ignores the wishes of the local membership. The key is, of course, to get elected.

Campaigns for the leadership of political parties is another critical choke point. Generally, the Party tries to recruit members to expand their base and then the membership votes and selects who leads the Party. This selection process has an important impact on the political direction the Party takes. The leadership campaign is an important opportunity to have real impact and for individuals to get involved. This opportunity should be embraced.

Politics is not a spectator sport. Rather it is a blood sport and those competing against each other or trying to influence the outcome try to impose their ideas on the Party. These contests can be brutal.

The party leadership generally gives lip service to the wishes of the rank and file. Frequently the party members pass resolutions that are ignored or contradict previous policy directives. However, as Winston Churchill says “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried….”12

It is important to be engaged in the political process and to keep informed on the issues. It is also important to support media vehicles that are independent and espouse progressive views.

In the United States, 6 corporations control 90% of all media and those platforms generally support their corporate owners and their agenda.13  The impact of this control of information in the words of John W. Whitehead is as follows:

Thus, whether you’re talking about the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the government’s invasion of Iraq based upon absolute fabrications, or the government’s wars on terror, privacy, and whistleblowers, it’s being driven by propaganda churned out by one corporate machine (the corporate-controlled government) and fed to the American people by way of yet another corporate machine (the corporate-controlled media).

For the first time in human history, there is a concerted strategy to manipulate global perception. And the mass media are operating as its compliant assistants, failing both to resist it and to expose it…. The sheer ease with which this machinery has been able to do its work reflects a creeping structural weakness that now afflicts the production of our news.

The media serves as information gatekeepers and spreads propaganda in lockstep with its corporate owners and the corporate-controlled government.  Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman have written extensively on the topic of “Manufacturing Consent” and the shaping of public opinion.14

So it is vital to democracy to have independent and reliable sources of information. These independent media platforms need to be financially supported. In light of the Internet and the explosion of social media, this creates both problems and opportunities.

It is important to understand how the political system works and to get involved. Political donations are the lifeblood of the political process. These donations are eligible for generous tax credits.

There is lots of work that needs to be done. Remember if you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem.

  1. “Churchill By Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations,” by Richard Langworth, Editor, (Public Affairs, May 24, 2011), p. 574. [] []
  2. October 21, 2019, Canadian Federal Election Results []
  3. See AZ Quotes []
  4. Tammany Hall,” History Television, August 21, 2018. []
  5. Canada’s Liberal Party Shuns Pro-Palestinian Candidates,” by Linda Belanger, Canada-Palestine Support Network,  September 21, 2007. []
  6. “Liberals allowed MP Marwan Tabbara to run in 2019 despite sexual harassment investigation, Allegations include unwanted touching and lewd comments aimed at the female staffer,” by Ashley BurkeKristen Everson, CBC News, June 19, 2020. []
  7. See “Arabs, Israel and Canada’s political establishment,” by MWC, Media With a Conscience, August 16, 2015; also see “Local Liberals resigning amid federal nomination ‘scandal” involving ex-MPP Khalil Ramal,” by Jennifer Bieman, London Free Press, August 26, 2019. []
  8. NDP blocks Paul Manly, son of former MP, from seeking 2015 bid in B.C: Stance on Israeli and Palestinian issues concerns NDP,” by Susana Mas, CBC News, July 02, 2014. []
  9. New Green MP’s fraught history with the NDP over Israel paved the way for his election: Paul Manly has maintained that the NDP rejected him for petty political reasons, not because he said anything about Israel that violated its policies,” by Marie-Danielle Smith, National Post, May 08, 2019. []
  10. See, for example, “The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014 – 2019,” by The Labour Party, March 2020; “How top Labour officials plotted to bring down Jeremy Corbyn,” by Jonathan Cook, Middle East Eye, 16 April 2020; “How Israel lobby manufactured UK Labour Party’s anti-Semitism crisis,” by Asa Winstanley, The Electronic Intifada, 28 April 2016;  “Leaks show how Labour sabotaged Corbyn,” by Asa Winstanley, Electronic Intifada, 17 April 2020; “Weaponising ‘anti-Semitism’:The whole campaign was carefully concocted,” by Moshé Machover, Weekly Worker, April 3, 2020; “New Labour purge against Israel critics,” by Asa Winstanley, Electronic Intifada, 20 May 2020; “The leaked Labour report should have been an explosive scandal: But the media buried it, because they were complicit,” by Brian Eno, Open Democracy, 24 April 2020; ”Palestinians win damages over “Labour Anti-Semitism Libel: Mail on Sunday Settled With Palestinian Return Centre,” by Asa Winstanley, Electronic Intifada, 19 June 2020; and “UK Labour party teeters on brink of civil war over antisemitism,” by Jonathan Cook, Mondoweiss, July 27, 2020. []
  11. See “Democrats at crossroads as Squad sweeps to victory – analysis,” by Omri Nahmias, Jerusalem Post, August 12, 2020. []
  12. These 6 Corporations Control 90% of The Media In America,” by Ashley Lutz, Business Insider, June 14, 2012; See also “How the American government is trying to control what you think: Is this the new propaganda?,” by John Maxwell Hamilton and Kevin Kosar, Washington PostSeptember 24, 2015. []
  13. When It Comes to Fake News, the U.S. Government Is the Biggest Culprit,” by John W. Whitehead, The Rutherford Institute, November 21, 2016. []
  14. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, (Pantheon; 2002). []
Edward C. Corrigan is a Barrister and Solicitor and has been active in political matters for more than 40 years. He has a degree in History and a Master’s degree in Political Science. He has published extensively on legal and political matters. In 2000-2003 he served as an elected member of London, Ontario, Canada’s City Council. Read other articles by Edward, or visit Edward's website.