Sunday, May 31, 2009

Democracy? What democracy?

Another excellent comment piece from Janet Daley in The Telegraph that nails several points that reflect my own opinions on democracy, the constitution and reform.

Suddenly it's all about reforming the constitution. How did that happen? A minute ago, we were talking about the misdemeanours (or perhaps in some cases, the felonies) of individual MPs and now we find ourselves plunged into a full-scale reinvention of the British parliamentary system.

How indeed. I've been wondering myself why it is that discovering that a few MPs have been taking the opportunity to line their own pockets (or their spouses) is reason for reforming our parliamentary system. I've also been wondering why so many people have been willing to fall for it.

I listened to the awful Andrew Marr interviewing Gordon Brown this morning and all Marr seemed interested in talking about was his own personal agenda for parliamentary reform - in particular the House of Lords as an elected second chamber. In case you didn't notice, it's the elected representatives who've been giving the British taxpayers a right royal seeing to over a barrel for the last decade or so. How the hell does it help to have twice as many on the fiddle?

Daley goes on to question the meaning of democracy and Cameron's big ideas for improving it.

A living, vibrant democratic process is about argument, or it is about nothing: if there is no argument, the voters have no choice and therefore no power. If all the parties offer them pretty similar, socially modish versions of the conventional wisdom, they will first become apathetic, then dismissive, then disgusted.

Exactly what I've been saying for ages. We do not have a democracy because there is no real choice. All the main parties have the same fundamental principles and policies that differ only in detail and implementation. Daley also recognises that the possibility of any sort of debate is stifled by the surrounding culture.

If the political culture – which means not just the parties but the BBC and the school curriculum – suppresses real, principled argument on substantive issues (the social consequences of multiculturalism, or welfare dependency; the effect of egalitarianism on education) then no number of new mechanisms for re-engaging people with politics will have much effect. How exciting would it be to vote in a primary for your local parliamentary candidate if all the contenders were conforming to the same line about the most contentious and urgent issues of the day?

There's a real danger in my opinion - and I do mean danger - that this row over a few MPs fiddling their expenses is somehow going to snowball into a demand for constitutional reform when there is fundamentally nothing wrong with our constitution. It's been effective for centuries in delivering democracy and limiting the power of the state - the only problem with it now is that our parliament is stuffed full of left wing socialist modernisers hell bent on turning Britain into a model of the EUSSR.

The problem is not the constitution or our parliament - its our political parties, their leadership and their contempt for Britain, our parliament and our constitution.

Remember, under our constitution it was illegal for Edward Heath to take us into the European Union. To do this he pushed through the European Communities Act of 1972 and overrule our constitution - much like Hitler used an Enabling Act to overrule the Weimar Constitution and seize total power. In 2006, the Blair government pushed through the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill - a further enabling act to grant extensive powers to government.

Taking such measures even in times when our nation faced a dire and existential threat is unheard of - for our governments to have done so twice in the last 40 years tells you of the contempt they have for the constitution and what they really mean by "democracy".

The only steps we need to take to reform our constitution are to repeal these two Acts. Once that done we will have properly limited and accountable government again - all we would need to do after that is restore the Lords so that we have a proper check and balance to temper the excesses of the elected representatives.

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