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Byron Shire
February 27, 2021

Actors change but performance the same

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The late British politician Tony Benn concluded that, ‘parliamentary democracy is, in truth, little more than a means of securing a periodical change in the management team, which is then allowed to preside over a system that remains in essence intact. If the British people were ever to ask themselves what power they truly enjoyed under our political system, they would be amazed to discover how little it is, and some new Chartist agitation might be born and quickly gain momentum.’

Alas, rather than Chartist agitation, in recent times we have seen riots and opportunistic looting amid the flames in London. Some of it filmed on mobile phones and later presented on television – as what? Societal commentary or warning? Or, more likely, yet more cheap schlock quasi- entertainment from human excesses and misery. Perhaps that is the kind of ‘mindless violence’ it takes to get noticed.

I suspect that would be the case here, where a Prime Minister can claim to be unaware of any demonstrations of lack of confidence in his government’s policies, while blithely noting the St Patrick’s Day celebrations. (I understand some commercial television also found themselves strangely in the dark.)

The London Daily Mail could accuse Tony Benn of wanting to turn Britain into North Korea. But here, while not claiming any comparison at all, I have found much enquiry seems to be running into closed doors. Try and find out what the real agenda is behind fencing off the section of rail track and the corridor of land beside it: one finds oneself in muddy waters (or at least I did). The whole caboodle gives our ‘other side of the tracks’ part of town something of a prison camp feel – all that chain fencing and private security patrolling.

Butler Street itself seems to me to be regarded as a kind of no-man’s land, with its future being set out as though there were no residents or ways of life that may be impacted. At least I do not know of any such consultations.

I sometimes wonder, usually aloud, ‘Who really runs this town?’ But my reading of history ought to tell me; though the actual names tend to be clouded. The Stoic Emperor philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote (in Latin), ‘The performance is always the same. It’s only the actors who change.’

I’ve been re-reading my book on Chaucer’s life and times in the 14th century (a ‘distant mirror’ for our own era if ever there was!). It deals with the Peasants Revolt; the power of magnates and merchants. In those days a mayor (they were always ‘dodgy’) could hang those he deemed culpable, often without even token trial. But even then money and power ran things. It seems a miracle that we even have a chance to ‘change the management team’ and give them their ‘mandate’ to go about their business.

I know many who will argue this; but I think John Lennon got it right: ‘You think you’re so clever and classless and free; but you’re still f-ing peasants as far as I can see.’

David Morris, Byron Bay


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