Britain has one of the oldest democracies in the world, having been largely run by a parliament since the 1600s. However, there are those who believe that Westminster politics are now dysfunctional with the voice of the people rarely being listened to. The million-strong march against the war in Iraq in 2003, for example, exposed a leader and government under the influence of a seemingly greater power than the British electorate. Around one in 10 households had someone take part in that march but it looked as if the then Prime Minister Tony Blair preferred to take instructions from Washington. The majority of those whose votes put him in Number 10 were thus ignored.
Without doubt, many of those voters have now been marginalised, especially by the sort of Westminster politicians who are viewed as power-hungry, money-grabbing, corrupt individuals motivated more by lining their own pockets than doing what their constituents want or, even better, by what is simply right. Despite this sad situation, the will of the people should never be underestimated and political activism in Britain is now probably stronger than ever, with the next generation of voters ready to bypass politicians to get some action and make real changes in the world.
A superb example crossed my radar today when it emerged that a teaching pack describing Palestinians as “terrorists” was handed out in an assignment to some 11-year-old pupils at a school in Scotland. One of the pupils showed it to his elder sister early on Tuesday evening. She brought it to the attention of her own friends via Facebook and within 12 hours a media storm was underway, thanks to the power of social networking.
The Association of Palestinian Communities in Scotland and the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign swung into action and released press statements condemning the inflammatory teaching materials given to children at that school in North Lanarkshire. By the very next morning the New Stevenson Primary School telephone was ringing off the hook and more than 100 media enquiries had poured in to the press office of Labour-controlled North Lanarkshire Council. Journalists and political activists demanded to know why the homework, which also described Palestine as “Israel”, and labelled all Palestinians seeking to end the Israeli military occupation as “separatist terrorists”, was given to the pupils.
The material could have been written by the Likud Party; pupils were, for example, asked to explain why “Palestinians feel they have the RIGHT to use terrorism against the Israelis.” Dr Essam Hijjawi, chair of the Association of Palestinian Communities in Scotland said: “The ‘separatists’ case study given to children as homework demonstrates a fundamentally flawed reading of history and geography, flying in the face of countless UN resolutions, and shows an ignorance which beggars belief. No one other than the State of Israel regards the Occupied Palestinian Territories as forming part of Israel, and no one regards the struggle of the Palestinian people as a separatist struggle. The United Nations consistently supports the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and governments across the world including the UK and Scottish governments call for an end to the occupation.”
By early Wednesday afternoon the council had contacted all 120 primary schools urging head teachers who might have the same teaching packs to ditch them and not use them. More importantly, a statement was pushed out “apologising unreservedly” for any offence caused. A spokesman for North Lanarkshire Council’s Learning and Leisure Services told me, “Clearly, the description of Palestinian people was inappropriate.”
It has now emerged that the teaching pack was generated by North Lanarkshire education department more than 15 years ago and was replaced by a new curriculum implemented nine years ago. Somehow, a couple of sheets from the old pack were distributed to a Year 6 class at the school.
“The homework material used was taken from a teaching pack which is now obsolete. We are contacting all schools to ensure that this particular material is no longer used,” added the spokesman.
In less than 24 hours of the controversy erupting on social media it was acted upon, rectified and remedied because hundreds of people swung collectively into action on Facebook and Twitter, on blogs, in the media, online and on the phone.
Politicians in the pay and sway of powerful lobbies should look at this sort of activism and question where their loyalties lie because voters, especially the young, understand that they have far more power individually and collectively than they might have imagined. Scottish journalist Tom Steele asked in a recent article, “Are we on the verge of the collapse of the Westminster establishment? It has been proven many times throughout history that all empires collapse when greed, corruption, sleaze and arrogance takes hold of the ruling classes.”
He was writing in response to the recent “cash for access” scandal which embroiled veteran MPs and former secretaries of state Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw, who both appeared to be offering to sell their not inconsiderable influence for a fee to a bogus Chinese lobby group. Among the most powerful of such groups is the pro-Israel lobby, which operates in and around Westminster. An expose of the influence of the Zionists can be seen in this Peter Oborne article based on a 2009 hard-hitting documentary.
Politicians seeking votes in the forthcoming General Election in Britain will have to do far more than pick up someone’s baby for a nice picture at this year’s hustings. Accountability is going to be a key issue for an electorate which is waking up to the fact that if voters want to bring about real change, then they can do it for themselves. Power to the people!
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.