Thursday, January 25, 2007

Democracy on the ropes

I've heard it said that a people get the government they deserve. When I read the Guardian I can't help feeling that whoever said that had a bloody good point. In today's comment section of the Guardian, Timothy Garton Ash hits on the reason why there is such an increasing democratic deficit in Western Europe. He summarises the situation thus:

My own summary of the shifting power equation goes like this. Power is no longer what it was, nor where it was. (Concentrated in the west, that is, and especially in the West Wing of the White House). It is more diffused both vertically and horizontally. Vertically, in the sense that relatively less power resides with the governments of states. Horizontally, in the sense that power is more widely distributed between a number of powerful states. Increasingly, the power map is both multilevel and multipolar.

OK. I'm not going to disagree with that - except that power, certainly in the Anglosphere in the last century or so, has always been multipolar and at multilevels. There were always powerful "poles" in the sense of nation states - Britain, France, USA, Japan and Germany for instance. However, in the Anglo influenced states that power was already at multilevel because that was the principle of our democracy. There were so many levels of democracy that everybody felt a part of it - right down to the man in the street. We, the people, could change things, really change things, just by exercising our right to vote. That is real power. That is real democracy.

As Mr Garton Ash points out, this has now changed. Power has moved away from the people to different groups with their own agendas.

As important is the vertical shift, from states to non-state actors, often empowered by new technologies. International terrorist networks are one obvious example, using new technologies both of destruction and communication (as in web jihadism). But there are many others. International NGOs like Oxfam, Human Rights Watch, Transparency International and George Soros's Open Society network have the power to change agendas. The big corporations heavily represented here in Davos are more powerful than most smaller states. (Would you rather be president of Citigroup or Mali?) International organisations, communities and networks, from the UN and the EU to the World Bank and the International Criminal Court, all take their slice of the power cake.

And there in lies the problem. Who votes for Human Rights Watch, Citicorp, the UN or World Bank? We wonder why people are switching off from democracy - it's because it is no longer the demos who are shaping the agendas of our governments. As Mr Garton Ash points out, some of us are trying to change that through blogging or "citizen-journalist" (what's that, then?), but we bloggers do not really have any power (maybe they do a little in the US) - we're just trying to get it back from the hands of the NGO's (should be NDO's - Non-Democratic Organisation) - whether NGO is a multinational or a charity.

It doesn't matter what side of the political spectrum you are on, left or right. If you favour democracy then you should not be happy that any group - whether it be a massive multinational, the UN or any other NGO - is taking that power away from you. It doesn't matter if you prefer the aims of Microsoft or the aims of Amnesty International - they should not have a bigger say in government than you or I.

Democracy is government by the people for the people. More and more people, particularly in Europe, are realising that their vote does not make a difference to the way we are governed. We're no longer a democracy. I'm not even sure what you would call it. It's not autocracy, it's not a plutocracy - it's a sort of corporatocracy. A government by corporation for corporation. Perhaps that's communism? I don't know. What I do know is that more and more people like me believe that our votes don't count and that we're now more of a one party state than a democracy.

Democracy is on the ropes and taking blows from all angles - from Islamists, globalists, anti-globalists, capitalists, anti-capitalists - literally every angle. It can either come out and fight or it can carry on being pummeled into submission. The only way it can fight is if more and more people turn their backs on the mainstream parties that have allowed this to happen. I don't care if you vote BNP, UKIP, Respect, Green or Monster Raving Loony - but if you love democracy, do not vote Labour, Liberal Democrat or Conservative.

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