PEOPLE POWER in action

The recent upheavals in northern Africa show just how fast popular action can spread, once the fuse has been lit and the “tipping point” reached between damp squib and satisfying explosion. At the same time as these momentous uprisings, a parallel revolution has shaken politics in the UK; tiny in comparison but no less important for students of People Power. In Africa, despotic rulers have tried for too long to control their people with violence and oppression; in the UK, the government tried to sell off forests belonging to the English people. In both cases there has been a loss of control by the respective governments fuelled by the failure of that well-known governmental tool, the Propaganda Machine.

The Politics of Self-Interest vs. the Politics of Fear

Generally speaking, people will put up with any type of government, democratic or despotic, as long as times are good, or even when they are merely “ok”. It is simple at these times for governments to appeal to their people’s self-interest.

However, when times start to go bad, and government and individual self-interest part company, governments have to work a little harder if they want to maintain the Status Quo.

It helps for several Conditions and Tools to be in place in order for governments to work against peoples’ self interest:

  • Apathy is a government’s best friend, and the most usual one for a Parliamentary Democracy like the UK
  • Partisanship, whether Tribal, Religious or Ethnic, is a key player all over the world, even in the USA where divisions between Republican and Democrat can in places take on tribal connotations
  • A poorly or narrowly-educated population is easier to steer, particularly with emotive messages
  • Ignorance of the outside world via Media Control means a population can be isolated from dangerous ideas
  • Powerlessness, stemming from a widely held view that the government is too strong to oppose, is a common control myth used throughout the world
  • Widespread Fear of the alternative helps keep a population in line
  • An Information Network that correctly informs the government about its people’s attitudes, thoughts and feelings is necessary if these things are to be manipulated
  • A powerful and effective Propaganda Machine using trained or naturally charismatic spin-doctors is invaluable when a government has difficult messages to put across

Under all these Conditions, which can be perfectly normal for any country whatever the political system, the current government can stay in power for decades with very little effort. Simple Propaganda messages such as “The alternative would be so much worse”, “It’s for the good of the people” and “We’re all in this together” can be very effective, when really they are only lies whose true meaning is: “Do as we say or else”. When some of the above Conditions no longer apply, governments start getting into real trouble.

The Voice of the People

If we take the examples of Libya and Britain, it becomes obvious how the removal of the above Conditions can encourage the rise and eventual success of Vox Populi.


Since Colonel Gaddafi established the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in the early Seventies, he has increasingly relied upon the Conditions of Powerlessness and Fear, supported by Information Networks and an effective Propaganda Machine. Gaddafi himself is supposed to have relinquished personal power in favour of a Direct Democracy, where there are no political parties and the country is controlled by the populace through local councils, communes, and a General People’s Congress. In reality, the Colonel kept his hands firmly (and individually) on the reins, and policy was disseminated in a top-down direction.

He was never really able to use the Condition of Ignorance as Libya welcomed foreign workers into its economy and at the same time embraced the new Media Technologies. For decades the young people of Libya have enjoyed an excellent education system, and as a result the populace is largely well-educated.

The Conditions which still kept the Voice of the People down; those of Powerlessness and Fear were defeated by the sight of successful popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt – viewed and spread, of course, by media-savvy Libyans via the Internet and Mobile Phone networks. Gaddafi’s Propaganda Machine seems to be limping along, churning out old messages of anti-West and anti-Zionist type, but his Information Network has either broken down completely, or he dissembles when he declares, as he has done recently, that “All my people love me”. Neither of these two Tools is adequate for the task.

His only resource, if he wants to stay in power, can be Fear through violence against his people. Unless he steps down the consequences are inevitably going to be bloody and tragic, especially as that other Condition of Partisanship has reared its ugly head, pitting tribe against tribe, though this may also fall as perceived self-interest overcomes it.


Politics in the UK seem very tame by comparison! But the British government has recently made a huge mistake by failing to use any of the Tools which might have been at its disposal, at a period when most of the Conditions had disappeared.

For half a century, the defining Conditions in the UK with regard to politics have been Apathy and Powerlessness. An indifferent education system for the masses has also contributed to a feeling that politics doesn’t matter. “Whoever gets into power, nothing will change” and “they’re all the same” are still commonly held beliefs. With these ideas in place, there has been no need to foster other, more repressive Conditions. Governments have, however, made use of the Tools of the Information Network and the Propaganda Machine. Words that were once foreign to British ears, such as Spin-Doctor, and phrases such as “Keeping in touch with the people” are now well-worn and little loved.

At the General Election, the Labour government’s Propaganda Machine was no match for the anger of voters who had been let down by the credit crunch crisis. Despite this, a hung parliament resulted, meaning that no party had an overall majority. A Coalition government of Conservatives and Liberals was elected, and that seems to have had a curious side-effect on the British people: Apathy and Powerlessness have suddenly gone out of the window.

The public knows that if the Coalition doesn’t deliver, it can be brought down. It also knows that Times Are Hard, and that unpalatable decisions need to be taken to get the country back on track. You would think that, at such a time, the government would work extra hard to hone the twin Tools of the Information Network and the Propaganda Machine. And in some ways, they have: witness the Prime Minister’s lame call that “We’re all in it together” – not particularly effective when delivered by a government full of moneyed and landed public school types. The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has actively encouraged people to tell the government what is wrong, and how it can be changed for the better. Whether this will lead to change is anyone’s guess.

However, in the case of the Great English Forest Sell-Off, the government didn’t bother to use either of these Tools at all, with disastrous (or comical, depending on your point of view) results.

The UK government, along with many others, needs to raise money. One idea they wished to adopt was to sell off much of England’s publically owned forests. The sale would be hedged around with vague conditions about continued public access and restricted commercial use, and a great deal of money might be raised. The Minister in charge says that in order to sell the idea to likely stakeholders (environmental groups, nature charities, and rambling associations) she asked them “Whether they would like improved security of access rights to English woodland. And of course they said ‘Yes, they would’”. No sell-off was mentioned, probably because the public knows that government conditions of sale are empty promises. As a piece of manipulation, it’s breathtakingly crude, and also begs the question of why the interested groups did not smell a rat.

Normally a proposed Bill like this goes to public consultation before Parliament, giving time for objectors to suggest changes. This Bill didn’t even get that far. As soon as the Press got hold of it, they knew they had struck gold, for the following reasons:

  • People who use English forests for recreational purposes tend to be better educated, passionate about the environment, and not afraid to express their opinions
  • They are likely to include family members and friends of politicians of the current government
  • The paid-up membership of one wildlife organisation in particular, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, is greater than that of all the political parties put together
  • The concept of selling forests is very emotive

The Press had a field day: petitions were organized by Newspapers, TV, Wildlife Charities, Public Watchdog organisations and by individuals using Social Networks and the Internet to out-manoeuvre the government. Within the space of a few days millions of signatures had been obtained and delivered to the Prime Minister. Shortly afterwards the Bill was history.

The government had not only failed to properly canvass peoples’ views before deciding to unveil the proposal, but they had also neglected their propaganda messages, to the extent where they were completely unable to explain their position to an irate public.

To sum up: none of the Conditions were in place which enables the state to control the people, but despite this, Tools which could have been used to support the government’s proposal were considered unnecessary.

Two different governments and two different scenarios, but a win in both cases for Vox Populi, powered by an increasingly knowledgeable, capable and empowered world population, and the breaking down of Conditions and Tools historically used to control and manipulate the people.

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