Alexei Navalny died yesterday fighting for democracy. We must fight for ours too and not take it for granted. Reports show that the younger generation want a ‘strong leader’. Well, I hope the death of Navalny opens their eyes to what happens when you get a strong leader: you lose free speech, and can be imprisoned or assassinated if you speak up against a President, their government, or the unjust wars they embark upon.
There have been attempts over the last decade to divide us and weaken our Western societies. I have written about this before and suspect Russian bots are responsible for much of the propaganda that questions or attacks Western values. It certainly suits Putin and our other enemies to undermine the belief we have in our society and, ultimately, in democracy. Without cohesion we leave ourselves vulnerable.
So isn’t it time for our own political leaders to speak up more vociferously for the benefits of Western values? Isn’t it time they contrasted the freedoms we have here with the restrictions that people face in Russia, China, North Korea, the Middle East and elsewhere? Isn’t it time they demonstrated to younger voters that they would not be able to march on the streets, drink, dance or be gay in quite a large number of other countries? Isn’t it time they woke young women here up to the amazing freedoms they have in the West that they do not have in other places? In fact isn’t it time for them to re-emphasize how fortunate we are living here because if we rubbish our own ways of life we weaken ourselves and, believe me, we would not wish to live under a Putin-like regime!
But our political leaders are not doing a great job of standing up for our way of life. They flip and flop and apologise and insinuate that life is worse today than it has ever been – take people back only a few years and they might realize that life was appallingly difficult for the majority of people in previous centuries so let’s celebrate what we have, where we have got to now. Yes, of course there are difficulties and challenges but the poverty and hardship of only a century ago in our own country was real before the welfare state, before equal rights and the incredible developments of science, technology, medicine. We have come to take our freedoms and rights for granted and forget that to uphold our democracy we must also accept that rights come with responsibilities towards our society and that includes voting. But I foresee electoral turnout as being a major problem in the next election.
I am not alone among my friends in feeling totally disenfranchised. Recent by-elections showed that people did not turn out in their droves to vote. Unless Sunak, Starmer and Davey (for a moment I couldn’t even remember his name!) tell us what they really stand for they will weaken our democracy. People are turning away from the Conservatives but the worse part is that they are not sure who to vote for and I don’t blame them. We are unsure whether either Sunak or Starmer are actually capable of leading because leadership means giving people a vision and a vision needs to be achievable and based on principles that can be understood by the electorate. We need to know that Starmer can control his far-left faction and Sunak his far-right faction. At the moment I am not convinced that either of them can and I really don’t know what Davey stands for. And so, in these gaps, Reform did quite well in Wellingborough…
Whichever party gets into power will have the same challenges to face and these are similar to the challenges being faced in other countries, such as an ageing demography, health services under strain etc. We must value what we already have if we are to protect it and build on it further to improve life even more. Life is tough now with the cost of living but it isn’t just tough in the UK – read about life elsewhere, even in Europe and the USA, to make comparisons before becoming so critical or complacent that we lose what we have.
The winning party will need us to play our part in remedying these issues and it may not be comfortable but I, for one, would prefer they treat us like grownups and are honest about (a) the problems we face and (b) how they intend to tackle them. No empty promises or magic money trees.
Democracy is flawed, as is every kind of political government, but it is the best we have. Navalny died fighting for it. He was extraordinarily courageous to do this when he knew he risked his life to stand up for what he believed in, including his fight against corruption. So far in this country we would not be assassinated for speaking up against our leaders but we are already seeing people cancelled and losing their jobs for speaking up for principles or facts they believe in. Antisemitism is on the rise.and surely it is unacceptable to blame schoolchildren living here for the perceived sins of their leaders. Protest but do so in a fair and peaceful way as bullying crowds are making our politicians’ lives so unpleasant that people are starting to turn away from being MPs. And we need our elected representatives in order to function as a democracy.
Anyone who has lived under a regime where they are not allowed to vote, or where they know that their vote is pointless will tell you this: a vote is a precious right. Let’s be responsible enough to value it. Let’s stand up for what we have built, for free speech and for democracy and ensure we get off our sofas and vote when the time comes.
I just hope that by the time of the next election our political leaders have shown us clearly where they want to take our country and specifically how they plan to do so, so that we feel motivated to get down to the polling booth when that time comes.
RIP Alexei Navalny
A friend has just pointed out that I should mention that the way Russia relates to democracy is one of the themes of my novel No Lemons in Moscow … just in case you’re interested!