Category Archives: Democracy
George Monbiot describes Britain’s claims to being a functioning democracy as ‘only skin deep’ and explains what he means in a Guardian article:
“Our political system has the outward appearance of democracy, but it is largely controlled by undemocratic forces. We find ourselves on the wrong side of the portcullis, watching helplessly as crucial decisions are taken about us, without us”.
Until the illness of minister Alok Sharma prompted a lightning u-turn, many were feeling uneasy about this week’s parliamentary decision to deny self-isolating MPs the ability to vote remotely, as others queued inside and outside the building, but they could see no effective way of bringing about positive change.
To those who argue that democracy functions well, as all adults have the power to vote, Monbiot explains that established power in this country is surrounded by a series of formal and informal defensive rings, briefly described below.
POLITICAL FUNDING for the Conservative party comes mostly from a small number of very rich people. Just five hedge fund managers have given it £18m over the past 10 years. The Leader’s Group* – an elite Tory dining club – grants big donors special access to the prime minister and his frontbenchers in return for their money. Monbiot’s response: “This corrupts our politics, replacing democracy with plutocracy”.
THE STRUCTURE AND SYMBOLISM OF PARLIAMENT, its rituals and procedures favour former public schoolboys, educated in a similar environment. Even its official emblem tells us we are shut out. It’s a portcullis: the means by which people are excluded from the fortress of power. Boris Johnson is described by Monbiot as being, in effect, a monarch with a five-year term and a council of advisers.
THE HOUSE OF LORDS has some seats reserved for hereditary aristocrats, some for bishops and the rest are grace and favour appointments, keeping power within existing circles. Many are granted to major political donors, reinforcing the power of money.
THE PRINT MEDIA are informal rings of power most being owned by billionaires or multimillionaires living offshore.
Monbiot points out that the UK is a democracy only in the weakest and shallowest sense: even when public trust and consent collapse, there are no effective channels through which the decisions government makes can be affected, ending:
“If there’s one thing the coronavirus fiascos show, it’s the need for radical change”.
The revolving door between government & big business
Yesterday’s headlines review of ONS report: 2008-2019, richest 10% enjoy biggest gains in household wealth
A surge in number of young people registering to vote has been reported as more than 300,000 applications were submitted in two days. There was a big spike on the day the election was announced.
- A third were from people under 25.
- Nearly two-thirds of applications were from people aged 34 and under
- and 4% came from those aged 65 and over.
Dr James Sloam is co-director of Centre for European Politics at Royal Holloway University, currently leading a project for the Greater London Assembly investigating the key policy issues for young people and questions of civic and political engagement and their relevance to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Dr Sloam argues that there has been a step-change in youth political participation, as young people have been attracted in large numbers to Jeremy Corbyn’s message. In the 2017 general election, turnout amongst 18-24 year olds rose from 43% in 2015 to 54% and polling data showed that most of them voted Labour.
BBC journalist Laura Lea points out that this is the generation that has borne the brunt of the financial crisis with uncertainty, unemployment and wage freezes being a staple of their adult life. Young people have experienced the tightest pay squeeze in the wake of the financial crisis – with real pay falling by 13%, according to the Resolution Foundation.
And – we add – they will have to face the increasing hazards of climate change.
‘Why vote? they’ll just ignore you’, says Steve Beauchampé
The news that Sir David Attenborough has launched the 10,000-tonne hull of the UK’s newest polar ship – named after him – into the River Mersey, revives memories of the saga of Boaty McBoatface.
A 2016 article in The Atlantic, reported that the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council recently ran a contest to determine the name of the new $300-million research vessel (now launched, above):
“The new ship would explore the remotest waters, its side emblazoned with a name chosen by ‘the people’ of the internet. Or such was the idea . . . The name received three times more votes than the runner-up entry. The people of the Internet had spoken emphatically, and they were deemed to have spoken like a five-year-old”.
However BBC Science now reveals that a less imposing Boaty McBoatface, a small unmanned yellow submarine, “lives on”. These Boaty-class subs will frequently operate from the Attenborough, going into places the ship cannot reach, like the floating ice shelves that surround Antarctica.
Steve Beauchampé in the Birmingham Press gave Attenborough his due, continuing: “According to Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson naming the ship Boaty McBoatface would have been ‘inappropriate’, whilst other critics suggested that doing so would have left Britain open to ridicule”. Alternatively, he suggests, “It might have added further to our reputation as a nation of quirky, eccentrics, the country that gave the world Monty Python, cricket, Prince Charles and a wealth of quirky, much-loved traditions and customs”.
Though this disregard for the result of a public vote might be seen as trivial, Steve pointed out, “It is consistent with a government culture that regards the result of elections, referenda and the architecture of democratic structures as expendable”. He gave some examples:
- In in 2012, despite overwhelming votes against the creation of such posts, including by voters in Birmingham and Coventry, little more than three years later an even more powerful mayoral post (that of West Midlands Metro Mayor) was effectively forced upon the region, without the electorate being given any say on the issue (this has also happened in other major conurbations).
- Similarly, Police and Crime Commissioner posts were imposed without a public vote, the government afraid that the creation of such rôles would have been overwhelmingly rejected in any referendum.
- Whitehall has forced significant changes to our system of local democracy. From 2018 councillor numbers in Birmingham will be reduced from 120 to around 100
- and the present electoral cycle, whereby a third of council seats are contested in three years out of four (with no elections in the fourth year) will be replaced with all out elections staged every four years.
- The city council did not seek these changes, the electorate did not ask for them and nor were they given any say in them.
- Government ministers are increasingly overruling local planning decisions, disregarding the will of communities and traducing the democratic mechanisms campaigners faithfully and honestly employed.
- Increasingly, major housing developments, road and other infrastructure schemes as well as highly contentious fracking licenses are being granted consent even where a majority of local voters are opposed.
“A disrespectful attitude to democracy is ingrained in our political system”
This is shown, Steve says, by the regularly reappearance of MPs rejected at General Elections in the House of Lords, “negating their own failure and voting in perpetuity on legislation, with seemingly no sense of shame or embarrassment”, by others simply paying their way into the Lords and by political donors being “regularly rewarded with a place in the nation’s legislature”.
The ‘let’s pretend we never had a vote’ mentality also infects elements of the Labour Party. Despite leader Jeremy Corbyn’s resounding victory in the party’s leadership contest, several hardline right wing Labour MPs openly sought a way of running a new leadership contest that denied Corbyn a place on the ballot paper.
“When the electorate’s wishes can be so flagrantly flouted, it seems reasonable to ask how secure the result of the forthcoming EU referendum will be, or what manoeuvres and machinations might be undertaken to negate the ‘wrong’ result. And I think we all know what result that is”.
Three years later such a comment seems rather prescient.
Steve’s original article may be read in full here.
Extinction Rebellion‘s spring rally in Bristol
He points out that one of Extinction Rebellion’s three central demands is for the creation of a deliberative citizens’ assembly to formulate recommendations that can inform debate about policy and enables ordinary citizens to get involved – a fundamentally democratic and constructive proposal.
The power exercised by industry’s lobbying of government – a recurring theme on this website – is highlighted by Pawley
Stressing that any realistic assessment of the battle for political influence must acknowledge industry’s “extra-democratic” force, he makes three points:
- In private, some energy companies continue to resist regulations designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, notwithstanding their public commitment to renewable energy (BP is a recent example).
- The energy industry has also distorted public debate by secretly funding climate change denial organisations.
- Environmentalists cannot fund lobbying efforts on such a scale.
He ends, “Instead, their protests are attracting media attention and promoting discussion of how to address the crisis. This has rapidly begun to highlight the strength of public opinion on this issue; we may hope that this will focus the minds of politicians”.
Aditya Chakrabortty focusses on the ‘vast disconnect between elite authority and lived experience, central to what’s broken in Britain today’ – the ‘gap’ which widened as independent working class self-help initiatives were replaced by the ‘hand of the state’ (Mount) creating ’a new feudalism’ and from two searing analyses of our divided society (Jones).
- “Why is a stalemate among 650 MPs a matter for such concern, yet the slow, grinding extinction of mining communities and light-industrial suburbsis passed over in silence?
- “Why does May’s wretched career cover the first 16 pages of a Sunday paper while a Torbay woman told by her council that she can “manage being homeless”, and even sleeping rough, is granted a few inches downpage in a few of the worthies?”
- Is “the death sentence handed to stretches of the country and the vindictive spending cuts imposed by the former chancellor George Osborne, a large part of why Britain voted for Brexit in the first place?”
“We have economic policymakers who can’t grasp how the economy has changed, elected politicians who share hardly anything in common with their own voters . . . Over a decade from the banking crash, the failings of our economic policymaking need little elaboration. the basic language of economic policy makes less and less sense.
“Growth no longer brings prosperity; you can work your socks off and still not earn a living. Yet still councils and governments across the UK will spend billions on rail lines, and use taxpayers’ money to bribe passing billionaire investors, all in the name of growth and jobs.”
A University College London study published last year shows that the parliamentary Labour party became more “careerist” under Tony Blair – and also grew increasingly fond of slashing welfare. Social security was not something that ‘professionalised MPs’ or their circle had ever had to rely on, so ‘why not attack scroungers and win a few swing voters?’
The trend continues: Channel 4 News found that over half of the MPs elected in 2017 had come from backgrounds in politics, law, or business and finance and more came from finance alone than from social work, the military, engineering and farming put together.
This narrowing has a direct influence on our law-making and political class and Chakrabortty comments: “We now have economic policymakers who can’t grasp how the economy has changed, elected politicians who share hardly anything in common with their own voters”.
He concludes that this is what a real democratic crisis looks like: failed policies forced down the throats of a public. Institution after institution failing to legislate, reflect or report on the very people who pay for them to exist. And until it is acknowledged, Britain will be stuck, seething with resentment, in a political quagmire.
August, who lives in Moseley, sends a first-hand account of Birmingham students’ march against climate change.
More than five hundred Birmingham students bunked off school today to march against climate change.
All Birmingham-based photographs reproduced with permission: copyright August Goff
Youth Strike 4 Climate coordinated young people from various educational establishments across the city who met up in the city centre.
They marched from Victoria Square, down New Street, through Pigeon Park and back to Victoria Square to protest against the inaction of governments to tackle climate change.
The march was organised by Katie Riley, a Birmingham student. She spoke at the rally, saying:
“Educate the youth of tomorrow and the parliament of today because people who don’t know what climate change is about don’t know how dangerous it is. Some people think the topic is dull and boring because the curriculum makes it like that. So, we need to change how people view climate change in order to get the change we deserve.”
Councillors from local political parties attended, as did Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Yardley.
Similar events have taken place in 100 British towns and other cities including London, Edinburgh, Canterbury, Oxford and Cambridge, calling for urgent action to tackle climate change, cut emissions and switch to renewable energy.
A few hours later a message was received from Irish colleagues, sending a podcast with messages from two 11-year-olds, Eve O’Connor and Beth Malone, who are involved in the schools climate strikes movement. Thousands turned out in Dublin and demonstrations were held in many towns.
Below in Broxstowe last weekend
And young supporters are also not swayed by media, career-minded ‘independents’ and deputy leader
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said:
“I’ve had a very interesting week in politics. I’m obviously very sad at some of the things that have happened and very sad at some of the things that have been said. Walking away from our movement achieves nothing. Not understanding where we have come from is a bad mistake.
“Because when people come together in a grouping, in a community like the Labour Party, there’s nothing we can’t achieve together for everybody . . .
“Labour, for me, is my life – and I’m very sad at people who have left our party. I really am. I say this to them: in June 2017, I was elected on a manifesto, Emily was elected on a manifesto, Richard was elected on a manifesto, Gloria was elected on a manifesto – it was the same manifesto . . . the Labour Party believes in equality and justice, that is what was the centre of our manifesto, and that will be at the centre of our next manifesto . . .
“When the media talk about the bravery of those who walked away, Anna Soubry voted for austerity and said it was a good thing. Almost immediately after leaving Chris Leslie tells us that we should not be ending university fees … and we should be cutting corporation tax and increasing the burden on others.
Mr Corbyn also addressed the anti-Semitism issues within the party, which MPs Luciana Berger and Joan Ryan both cited as they quit Labour this week:
“When people are racist to each other, then we oppose it in any way whatsoever. If anyone is racist towards anyone else in our party – wrong. Out of court, out of order, totally and absolutely unacceptable. Anti-Semitism is unacceptable in any form and in any way whatsoever, and anywhere in our society.”
He added: “I’m proud to lead a party that was the first ever to introduce race relations legislation and also to pass the equality act and the human rights act into the statute book.”