Let off steam

Protestos com accent:

(...)Britons have historically been less keen than, say, the French, to air their grievances in public (all those strangers, and anyway it might rain). But the appetite for demonstrations is growing—and the profile of the protesters is changing. Once they were mostly industrial workers, peaceniks or extremists; these days they are as likely to be policemen or junior doctors. Groups who used to pursue their goals inside politics now do so outside it as well; once-marginal techniques are becoming orthodox.

The widening of the protest franchise is mostly seen as healthy. In fact, it suggests a dangerous view of politics.(...)

The basic deal of parliamentary democracy is, or used to be, that on polling day voters make an overall choice among the packages on offer. They can turf out the government at the next election, but until then they have to live with compromise, frequent disappointment and occasional coercion.

That old model seems to be increasingly unsatisfactory to voters accustomed to bespoke treatment in other aspects of their lives. People are right and entitled, of course, to make their views known to their elected representatives; but swelling numbers seem to expect the same sort of service from Westminster as they get from Starbucks—to choose their policies in the same way as they choose the toppings on a cappuccino (a sprinkling of low taxation, please, with a referendum on the side). They demand a kind of personal satisfaction that government, with its conflicting priorities, can't deliver.(...)

But in a way, by advertising its respect for dissent, the demonstrations redounded to the government's credit. An understanding of the utility of protest may have influenced Gordon Brown's decision to lift the Blair-era restrictions on protests in Parliament Square. The same calculation may be at work in the government's new enthusiasm for politics by internet, which some fear may lead to a crass majoritarianism. So far, although there are lots of e-petitions on Number 10's website, they have mostly just allowed the disgruntled to let off steam.(...)

To the barricades, darling
The Economist, March 8th-14th 2008, p.42

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