On a Bicycle Made for Two

So, in Russia, Mr Putin has pulled a surprise rabbit out of his Ushanka and hailed the end of the so-called Tandemocracy.

That’s a weird term for the arrangement, but I am certainly not one for smears whether they relate to character, a cervix, or a doorknob.

We had a similar high-profile arrangement in the UK a few years back when Tony Blair and Gordon Brown split the top two jobs and that one went somewhat awry. I guess that was because Gordon wanted the prestige of the top job, even though he realised that the position and actual power are not necessarily one and the same.

Some positions do hold a quantity of formal authority that is greater than in others. Ability and competence also instil a degree of follower in others, as does popularity. But this tends to materialise at multiple levels and at numerous locations as part of structures rather than it being held in one place and directed downwards. It certainly does not have to be located at the top of the pyramid.

I mean, we have always had an awareness of ‘the power behind the throne’ as a concept. It was said that in the Gestapo, there were people with the rank of Sergeant who could put the wind up a General. And contrary to popular belief, there weren’t that many Gestapo members (by 1944, only 32,000 members of which 18,500 performed field police work), who covered a huge amount of ground in occupied Europe and beyond. I am willing to bet that a lot of malevolence in that era arose from the lower to middle ranks, as a result of a drive for results and fuelled by the responsibility (and accountability) vested in these foot soldiers. Most of the Gestapo weren’t even ideologically National Socialists.

And in all walks of life the same can be said to apply. Everybody swarms all over leadership elections as if they are the pivotal events that will define future direction and accomplishments. The truth is that these are always determined by careful planning and strategy that accomplish change before anybody realises what has happened. And then it takes an age to unravel and re-engineer it. The Labour Party are about to find that one out, mark my words.

I previously joked about Corbyn Continuity Candidate being a nail in the coffin for one of the leadership contenders, and it will be as far as the party voters are concerned. But the truth is that they are all Corbyn Continuity Candidates whether they like it or not. Until of course they manage to unravel and disconnect everything that has been methodically put in place for the last few years.

People generate ideas and support them with structures. Structures generate power. Power supports truths. ‘Truths’ strengthen and weaken positions – and people. And so, the growth cycle continues, exponentially.

This architecture gains its initial authority through a more direct, or executive, decision-making. Look how we devolve our equal, individual votes as citizens in a democracy. We vote for representatives, who once elected will do pretty much whatever they decide. We discovered that when we all voted equally in a referendum on Brexit and discovered that the representatives in the legislative body decided to go their own way.

And many thought that this was an outrage – even though we had given them this mandate ourselves and have been quite happy for them to exercise this on every other matter at hand. Of course, we can criticise MPs for subverting the democratic choice of Brexit, but they were of course remaining true to an overarching and longstanding democratic system through their voting in accordance with the delegation of power afforded by our electoral system.

It’s a rum old thing, power. We are generally happy to delegate discretion over its use but are quick to cry foul when decisions are made with which we don’t approve. We can be given critical decisions to make via referenda, but we criticise plebiscites as flawed because voters do not apparently understand the complexities well enough in order to make informed decisions. We know enough about its operations to follow the drama and to and fro of official leadership contests almost slavishly, yet our maxims and aphorisms reveal that we know a great deal more about its machinations in practice.

Power is like something we consider and on which we ponder, but which we will not dare embrace. Something we can control or wish to control without wishing to get too close. Individuals will be criticised for seeking it (‘they’re power-mad‘) almost as if we are seeking to limit (or control) the power of others, which we are ostensibly only too keen to entrust into their custody.

It strikes me that if we are that keen on restricting the power of others, we need to acknowledge and embrace the underlying issue. It is not power we fear but the responsibility that wielding it brings.

And if we are not prepared to make that commitment, we should be apprehensive of not the power, but the interpretation of responsibility by others. That is where the political arguments are won and lost, but first we have to take back ownership. We have to become involved, and more deeply so.

It is why in this era, political engagement has never been more vital.

unsplash-logoAdolfo Félix

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