Monday, April 12, 2010

This is not America

Whenever I discuss the impending television debates between the leaders of media approved political parties I frequently come across the argument that "they've been having these debates in America for decades" as if this somehow clinches the argument.

We're not in America so it is totally irrelevant. If all that mattered to an argument is whether America does it or not then one could equally claim this is a clincher for an argument on the death penalty or chain gangs.

I get a similar response on the question of an elected second chamber - "it works for America", they bleat. It's true that the USA has an elected upper house, but whether it works or not is a contentious issue given that the US President is often too powerful when his party controls both houses and then a "lame duck" when his party controls neither. If that's the idea some people have of something that "works" then I'd hate to see something which they think is a complete dogs dinner.

Our democratic process and system is totally different from the USA's - and France's, Sweden's or Germany's. We share some cultural things with the USA - language, institutions, traditions (something we don't do with our European neighbours) but we're still an entirely different nation to the USA - or France, Sweden or Germany. The supposition that because something "works" for some other nation it ought to work for us is tenuous at best and ludicrous at worst.

The idea that this "leaders debate" will somehow improve democracy is ridiculous. First of all, we do not elect our Prime Minister - so Messrs Cameron, Brown and Clegg having a chat on national TV has no impact on who becomes Prime Minister - only on which political party gets to choose him or her.

Secondly, the debate excludes all the other parties which are not Labour, Tory and Lib Dem, therefore circumventing the democratic process and narrowing the choice down to three parties which are all pushing the same fundamental policies. Now some of those parties being excluded are not likely to win seats - but they are likely to win a considerable number of votes which could have a significant effect on the outcome of the election while other parties, though insignificant in England, are considerably important in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

I don't believe that these debates will do anything to improve our democracy or to mend the "democratic deficit" which results in lower and lower turnouts and more and more disinterest in General Elections - but even if they do then I wonder at what cost that will be to our process of parliamentary democracy.

This is not America, we are not American and we do things very differently here. Just because the media are obsessed with copying everything the Yanks do in their seedy industry doesn't mean that we have to turn our democracy into a personality cult based soap opera.

1 comment:

bernard said...

Stan -

Yes, I agree with that.

A case in point occurred on the radio 4 programme 'The Moral Maze' a few months ago where the topic for the panel was 'sex education for primary school children'; was it good or bad.
One of the invited guests, a social worker, stated her case that it was desirable, but was loosing the argument badly.
In desperation she ended her disquisition by stating "well, it works in Sweden, and they have less teenage pregnancies than here".
It's the same pitfall that Labour fell into when arguing for longer drinking hours ie. it works in Italy and other southern European countries, so why not here.
By ignoring cultural and even geographical differences, the 'liberal' mindset that we are all the same is doomed from the outset.