As soon as ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone appears on the radio gushing with praise for Fidel Castro who has died aged 90, you know that Castro can’t have been that good a guy. And he wasn’t. Cuba has a more than dubious human rights record, a terrible record with LGBT folk and, lest we forget, is a Marxist/Leninist one party state. And that’s without mentioning the number of imprisoned journalists which is higher than anywhere in the world, apart from China. There’s more, much more, that’s very wrong with Cuba, but I suspect what will eventually follow will not be much better.
Eventually, I suspect, democracy of a sort will come to Cuba. Eventually, the people will demand it and those demands will become irresistible. But there is an argument that says democracy is overrated.
We live in a parliamentary democracy where we elect a new government every five years. The alleged beauty of that is that if we don’t like what that government does, and specifically our local member of parliament, we can all vote for someone else. Fine. But what does that actually mean in practice? I’d argue, not a lot.
I usually vote for the losing side, to be fair and since I was able to vote I have only been on the winning side three times, these being the three election victories won by Tony Blair. The rest were won by Margaret Thatcher, John Major and David Cameron. The thing that struck me about the last three in particular that my vote was effectively wasted. Thatcher (in particular), Major and Cameron (aided and abetted by the Lib Dems) won their elections and effectively did what they liked for the following years. Election promises counted for nothing, politicians did exactly what they wanted. Is this the future that awaits Cuba? Oh yes.
Take the USA under Donald Trump (please). Trump the candidate had virtually no policies at all and enters office with a blank piece of paper. He will be able to do exactly what he wants for four years, completely unchecked by Congress and the Senate which are also controlled by the GOP. I can even extend the narrative with the referendum we have had where we voted to leave the European Union. Most of us accept the fact we will leave the EU, but not a single person in the land voted for the way we leave. The arguments about this will run and run and, as it does with all Tory leaders, Europe will eventually do for Theresa May. I accept that a large number of people voted to make themselves poorer if it meant getting rid of these pesky European migrants, but I can’t believe that applies to all of the 52% who won the day.
And that is why I struggle with the concept of democracy as we know it. I see it less as a democracy as an elective dictatorship. The people elect leaders and leaders do exactly what they want, treating the lumpen proletariat as submissive, malleable and unworthy of consultation. The point is this: is our democracy that much better than Castro’s Communist dictatorship? We have a country where over a million people a year use food banks, where people are being abandoned through the lack of social care which is being caused by a deliberate decision to cut funding, where “ordinary working people”, the ones to whom Mrs May uses weasel words like those who are “just about managing” – JAMS – are paying the price for austerity.
I would go so far as to say Theresa May is lying about her empathy with the JAMS. They were the words of a newly installed prime minister who was wanting to curry favour with the electorate. Empty words, rhetoric, slogans.
Deomcracy is better than Communism, for sure, but democracy sometimes does not mean a thing. Just look at my old union the PCS which is beginning the equivalent of a one party state, led by a general secretary who is “elected” unopposed. I expect the leadership is mourning the death of Castro as I write.
If you’re going to Cuba it’s best you go soon because one day it will become part of the land of the free and probably not much more free than it is now, if Donald Trump is anything to go by.
We treasure democracy but it’s not always easy to define. Sometimes I feel that I have no say at all in how my country is won and our country feels like the dictatorship I genuinely believe it to be. Our leaders always seem to do what they hell they like anyway, elected or not.