One thought that occurred to me after writing yesterday’s post – and clarified by a discussion about it on Facebook – was how depoliticizing something connects to structures of power. I ended up circling around the issue rather than addressing it directly, and I think it’s important to highlight it as we often avoid talking directly about power when we discuss politics.
As I discussed yesterday, ‘taking the politics out’ of a discussion or decision is to pretend it can be removed from the wider context it takes place in. Effectively, it’s saying that we need to accept the status quo and not challenge any of the assumptions we’re operating in. The status quo is presented as ‘just the way things are’ and almost objective facts rather than being subjective and the creation of a political process. By calling to take the politics out of just one thing, whole swathes of subjects are actually being placed out of the reach of political action and discussion.
It’s why attempts at depoliticising things are usually the tool of those already in power, as it’s a great way to load the argument in their favour. They’re just trying to discuss things reasonably, they claim, it’s everyone that’s challenging them who’s politicising the issue. At the extreme end of the scale, it’s why dictatorships implement one-party (or sometimes no-party) states because that allows them to strictly contain the boundaries of what’s political. Limited to only that desired by the party and conducted under its auspices, it assures that the political is kept within a small range and everything else remains unchallenged.
Although not on the same scale, a similar principle applies in our system. Consider that when someone challenges something that’s normally been an accepted part of the consensus, they’re usually then accused of politicising it, as though this is something terrible. All they’re doing, in fact, is putting forward an alternative view and demonstrating that something is political and has always been political. However, the more you can get people to believe that something isn’t political, that it’s part of the fabric of things and doesn’t need to be thought away – don’t look at the entrenched power structures behind the curtain! – the more you can protect that which gives you power: it’s not political, it’s just the way things are.
The key, I think, to understanding British politics is that there are a hueg number of things that have been taken out of the political arena, some recently, some for centuries. It’s the process Peter Mair talks about in Ruling the Void but it’s not a new phenomenon. Our electoral system, the way Parliament works, the Civil Service, the ownership of land and much more: all of these are issues that decide who wields the power in Britain, yet there’s massive attempts to keep them depoliticised and restrict politics to just a small area that doesn’t change too much of importance. Sure, the names at the top change but who wields power is not important, providing that the hierarchical structure always remains the same. Politics is about power, and taking the politics out of something is to remove any attempts to challenge the way power works.