Thursday, May 14, 2009

On Elected Crooks and Other Options

Liberal democracy is still at an early experimental stage. We have to remember this. It's less than a hundred years since we got anywhere close to universal suffrage and less than ten since we've had the Human Rights Act in British law. Much of the world isn't there yet and we may be wrong to assume that it's a matter of yet at all. Just because it's a really good idea - one of our best - doesn't mean that it'll catch on any more than it has, doesn't mean that we won't throw it away.

There are lots of other ways of running things – we've done this in lots of other ways in the past. Or at least, we've had it done to us. That's the thing. Liberal democracy provides us all with a chance to live the kind of lives we'd like and to have our voices heard. All other systems give all the power to just a few people, for fairly arbitrary reasons and usually for very short precarious periods. Liberal democracy is the best system for everyone. Even if, right now, you feel that things should be done very differently, you have a chance to change your country. You are free to make your argument, and if it's any good, others may be persuaded.

This is also the inevitable weakness in the system. You have to allow very mistaken people the same opportunities as the rest of us. You can't ban political parties or stop anyone from speaking out. You can only force people to act within the law and to keep those laws as liberal as possible. It is reasonable to stop some people doing certain jobs which involve upholding the law – members of the BNP aren't allowed to be police officers because under our system, police officers have to sign up to the idea that every one of us has an equal right to peace and justice. I don't suppose you could be a history teacher either, and the CofE has banned BNP membership among the Clergy on account of the fact that Jesus was a decent kind of chap (despite this compelling poster). But they can still speak and run for government office. And that's a good thing.

We're in a bit of a state just now. Not much of a state, but a bit of one. We're in a recession. We have an unelected Prime Minister who well, Charlie Brooker put it rather prettily. And we've had thirteen years of possibly the most cynical government in British history. Not necessarily the worst, but the most cynical. They act like they don't really care what we think - or maybe they do care, they just assume that we're all utterly gullible. We feel we are not listened to. And when we feel we are not listened to at, we begin to suspect that no-one in politics will listen to us.

The scandal over MPs expenses is nothing next to taking us into an illegal war, colluding with torturers and attacking our civil liberties. One or two heads will rightly roll (we'll have paid for the hats on them) but lots of people exploit expenses claims. The real galling thing here is that once again, it seems to have taken an age for anyone to admit that they had done something wrong. Oh and the fact that both the main parties have been so obsessed with us useless eaters and cracking down on benefit fraud (hat-tip to BendyGirl).

But perhaps the most dangerous thing is that they're all in on it. The main political parties haven't been attacking each other on the issue because none of them have clean linen. And so it seems that all politicians are bastards. There have been jokes (at least I hope they're jokes) about how the Queen should dissolve parliament and appoint someone of her own choosing.

It doesn't have to be like this. In other countries in Europe, politians are seen more like public servants. The population of any healthy democracy will engage in both criticism and piss-taking of its elected representatives, power and corruption are never far apart, but other populations are less demoralised than we are just now. Of course some have things much worse than we do - like Italy, who still have this man running both the government and half the media.

Anyway, we have a European Election coming up on the 4th June. At the last European Elections in 2004, there was a less than 40% turnout and 5% of the votes were for the BNP. That's one in twenty of the people who voted, but only one in fifty of the electorate and presumably several people who crossed that particular box had simply missed the one they wanted to cross (let's give them the benefit of the doubt). Okay, so it's Europe, we don't see a lot of what MEPs do, but it's still about power. And maybe, given these scandals, the increase in poverty and hardship over the last five years and the growing sense that some radical change must take place, they'll get even more votes this time. These people could wind up having a tiny bit of power over our lives. And their voices get louder. And like I say, we can't ban them, we can't shut them up. All we can do is keeping winning the argument and vote.

I think it would be good to vote for just about anyone else this coming 4th June. Personally, I think you ought to vote for the Liberal Democrats, but if you strongly disagree with them, there's probably someone else you can vote for in good conscience. If you want out of Europe, there's always UKIP who are at least a liberal bunch. And then hopefully we get to do the same in a General Election sometime in the next year - goodness knows we're overdue one.

We can all vote for flawed people who nevertheless subscribe to the principles of freedom, equality and democracy. At least when they mess up, we can still hold them to account. And then we can continue with the experiment.


Gary Miller said...

Great post - and never were truer words spoken! I'm struggling to think of a politician, from any party, who could justifiably be called honest.

Had a BNP campaign leaflet through the door today...think I'll use it to light the fire tonight. It invited to call a number to get a poster for my window. Hmmm...think I'll pass on that one!

JackP said...

My MP, Dave Anderson is actually pretty good. Certainly in terms of keeping you informed, and getting back to you if you get in touch with him. Here's his record. Or there's Kevin Hopkins, the Labour MP lionisted in the Telegraph:

"The only other expense he claimed since 2005, were two food bills for a total of £36.45. He could have received £4,800 a year for meals without submitting receipts."

So they aren't all bad. The problem is, these aren't the ones setting the rules!

I would also urge anyone voting in a parliamentary election to check out where you can look at the voting record (and some expenses, declarations etc) or your sitting MP, before making any decisions regarding your vote. Don't vote against a good MP because you are upset with someone else in his or her party...

...unfortunately, I don't think there is an equivalent for MEPs, which is a shame as the EU's accounts have been refused to be signed off by auditors fof over 13 years, citing 'financial irregularities'.

As for the Queen disbanding the whole thing, well, I rather think it is a joke too. But I'm quite open to the idea of a dictatorship, as long as I'm the one issuing the dictats...

The Goldfish said...

Thanks Garry & Jack,

There is an European equivalent of They Work For You which started up just this last week called Judging by the site, you need to know who your MEP is first, and I'm struggling to find a site that can tell you that quickly.

Diane J Standiford said...

Isn't it strange that after so many years humans can't get it right? We are flawed to learn lessons and TEACH lessons to following generations, yet we go about out way doing stupid stuff again and again and again. Then we die off and only the biggest losers and winners will be remembered. The rest of us wake up to each day hoping we make it through without scars. Politicians need a daily reality check and more humility/less power. Great post.

Gary Miller said...

@Jack: You're right of course. Not all politicians are money-grabbing, sleazy, sons of so-and-so. Thanks for the reminder and the useful links.