At this moment radical politics is flat on its back having been hit with a devastatingly effective neo-Conservative programme. Donald Trump in the United States and Theresa May in the UK are following an aggressive reactionary programme and in mainland Europe the hope is that Centre Right politicians can hold out against Far Right and Neo-Fascist politicians. But the scale of the victory is no fluke, a kind of lucky break by reactionary politics. The Neo-Conservatives have thoroughly prepared for this moment and their success is down to making a very specific political philosophy acceptable to a great many people. The road forward for radical politics is rocky and long. I want to briefly explain why, using a classic example from an earlier post.
In that previous blog I pointed to the work of David Brooks back in the 1990s. Very briefly, here is what he proposed. The pursuit of national greatness is all-imporant and is the fundamental pillar of the project. All else depends upon its successful articulation. How to do this? Here are just some of the ways and how they are being given real world form by the UK Government:
- Firstly associate yourself with a golden age of the past. This may mean building physical objects. So in the UK promoting Empire 2.0 may be useful but not nearly as effective as, say, building a new Royal Yacht!
- There must be great programmes for government to pusue. Brexit! A perfect opportunity seized upon with glee by Theresa May giving the Government a heaven sent opportunity to use the rhetoric of independence and national exceptionalism. But if not Brexit then something else would have been adopted.
- Explicitly tie naked ambition and willpower into the programme. Hence the insistence on Grammar schools, despite Justine Greening vainly attempting to promote them as engines of social mobility!
- Persuade a poplulation bouyed up by the pursuit of greatness that a strong government has better things to do than strengthen comminities and individual liberties. Note that Conservatives have quiety dropped the rhetoric of smaller Government. So trash the laws and programmes which support services. But quietly forget about ‘balancing the budget’.
- Promote an iron discipline to achieve the greatness. In the UK if this means putting up with falling wages and living standards, then the price is worth paying!
Brooks was interviewed recently, The expectation was that he would be ecstatic, with Trump scoring a devastating victory for his ideology. But not so. Apparently what he envisaged was someone more focussed and disciplined to implement the programme than the erratic and vainglorious Trump!
It is important to note that this is not a purely political issue. The scale of the problem is huge with highly influential cultural vehicles such as newspapers (the Daily Mail, Express, etc), TV news and reality programmes (see my post on this from a Neo-Liberal perspective) mobilised in the promotion of the neo-Conservative line. Add to this, of course, Banks and Multinational Corporations. Radical and progressive politics can and will recover but it will take time to develop from new foundations. Political philosophies of equal potency do exist but we must not be afraid of adopting them and translating them into a programme. But remember the neo-Conservatives spent decades achieving their hegemony here so the sooner we start the better!
Occasionally a statement is made which is so far removed from reality it is rendered meaningless. Such a moment occurred last week when The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in its Democracy Index 2016 once again categorised the UK as a ‘Full Democracy’. In fact they regarded it as more of a democracy in 2016, rating it 8.36/10 than in 2015, when it scored 8.31/10, largely as a result of the EU referendum. This is enough to rate the UK at number 16 out of more than 160 countries examined and the anomaly is of such glaring proportions that it lends credence to the campaign tactics of populist movements around the world (most notably during the 2016 UK EU Referendum campaign by Michael Gove and Boris Johnson) of discrediting experts.
The full report can be accessed from The Economist website, but you have to sign your life away to get to it (they want to grab the details of as many professionals as they can, hence a telephone number etc). Alternatively, you can read a summary of the report on the World Economic Forum site. Although the overall results are clear it is worth digging in a little to examine just how they came to this seemingly bizarre conclusion. It is not necessary to sign up with the devil to do this as last year’s report for 2015 is freely available.
Stretching the definition of ‘Full Democracy’ beyond reasonable bounds!
For a start I am not sure what is meant by a ‘full democracy’ in the first place So here is the EIU definition:
Countries in which not only basic political freedoms and civil liberties are respected, but also tend to be underpinned by a political culture conducive to the nourishing of democracy. The functioning of government is satisfactory. Media are independent and diverse. There is an effective system of checks and balances. The judiciary is independent and judicial decisions are enforced. There are only limited problems in the functioning of democracies.
Part of this definition applies (e.g. an independent judiciary) but lets compare it with the obvious basic anti-democratic features of the UK. Our constitution (unwritten) allows for an uncontestable Monarchy, a House of Lords (including 92 hereditary peers and 26 Church of England Bishops), an autocratic Privy Council and a Royal Prerogative through which the government can bypass Parliament and judiciary. On top of this there is a first past the post electoral system which has handed power to representatives elected by only 37% of people who voted, a hugely biassed press and a sophisticated corporate lobbying industry. Bearing in mind this list could have been many times longer and a democracy score of 83.1% is already absurd.
Last month (March 2017) Dawn Butler made history by becoming the first MP to use British Sign Language (BSL) to pose a question in the House of Commons. She asked whether the Government would give BSL a legal status alongside other recognised languages. As Ms Butler said in a subsequent article :
We need to make parliament representative of wider society. One important part of this is to make parliament as open and accessible as possible.
Representation Means More Than Voting and Consultation
This is a crucial point. Vital in any inclusive political system is the ability for all groups in society to be represented and influence every aspect of Government policy, not just be called into committees when the members feel like it! Inclusion means having an input in the formulation of policy in the first place rather than being limited to commenting and voting on the agendas of others. In a review of political representation of women and BME communities Karen Bird quoted researcher Melissa Williams:
“…the only hope that marginalised group presence will have a lasting effect on policy outcomes is that decisions are based not only on the counting of votes but also on the sharing of reasons.”
The same argument, of course, applies to any other community group. But consider the figures. In the current House of Commons (April 2017) between 2 and 5 MPs are considered physically disabled, depending on the criteria applied. Yet to be representative, on even the more narrow of definitions of diability, there would need to be 65 MPs.
In her letter to the European Commission formally giving notice of the UK triggering Article 50 to withdraw from the EU, Theresa May made specific reference s to two areas of policy, economics and security. Linking these was widely interpreted as a veiled threat to ensure a more benevolent negotiating position from the EU countries. While this may be correct it is far from the whole story. There was another audience – us! Economics and security go to the heart of the disastrous policies which this amoral government is intent on pursuing.
Focussing on economics and security as a combination (as opposed to say, social policy or the environment) is entirely consistent with Theresa May’s pursuit of the kind of autocratic neo-Conservatism I have alluded to in an earlier post. The implicit threats of a ‘bonfire’ of red tape presents a real danger to the rights and conditions of working people. This means that Sports Direct and JD Sports warehouse conditions will become the norm rather than the exception. Add this to Chancellor Philip Hammond’s threat turn Britain into an offshore tax haven, effectively ending the possibility of adequately funding public service provision and the scene is set for wage slave conditions and the return of the workhouse. May’s clever move was to present such a prospect up front in an attempt to gain misplaced patriotic support at the expense of individual rights, as I pointed out here. The argument will be that we shall need to work in this manner in order to show the big bad EU that we can run a ‘successful economy’. You can almost hear the rhetoric now; cutting red tape to unleashing the creative potential of plucky Brits in the ‘gig economy’ to thrash those Johnny foreigners in the EU! In reality the only things unleashed will be the size of the bank accounts for the likes of Philip Green and Mike Ashley.
Consider the second point of emphasis, security. As a result of the events in Westminster Parliamentary attacks, Home Secretary Amber Rudd is already proposing breaking into encrypted messaging services in the name of ‘security’. This is in spite of the evidence to suggest that it was a lone wolf attack, the most difficult to stop using correspondence surveillance. But the revelations from the CIA reveals that without strict and accountable line of authority such technology cans be used for more than just extremist terrorism. There is nothing to stop future governments (also conceivably led by that nemesis of Human Rights, Theresa May) broadening ‘threat’ to include the EU itself if negotiations go wrong (as seems likely) or ‘environmental activists’ as has already happened in local instances. As I mentioned in a previous blog, Government can harness the natural instincts of people to gather closer together for protection.
The autocratic part? Aside from continued attempts to exclude Parliament from taking an active part in Brexit, todays white paper on the Great Repeal Bill makes specific reference to the Government taking ‘delegated powers’. Even as it stands it is anticipated that up to 1000 instances of Ministers making alterations to statute while bypassing Parliament will occur. The likelihood is that number will explode with ample opportunity for the Government to sneak through legislation which is only remotely related to EU separation.
Make no mistake, the Article 50 letter was as much for our consumption as for the EU Commission. Brexit has provided the perfect opportunity for the Government to pursue its neo=Conservative policies. But they were going to be pursued anyway. If Brexit had not happened another pretext would have been found.
Click here for my Leveller article on Jeremy Hunt and why ‘no facts’ are as big a threat to our freedom as ‘alternative facts’.
Thanks to a constitution where elections prevail throughout the system the United States now faces one of the most hazardous moments for individual liberty in its history. It provides a warning about the dangers of a fully elected second chamber which is often suggested for the UK.
Currently in the US one party holds the Presidency and a workable majority in both houses of Congress. Moreover this is a party being dragged away from consensus politics by a charismatic leader intent on enacting policies which present a threat to the constitution itself. The situation is made worse by a willingness to appoint members to the US Supreme Court on a partisan basis which shows signs of destroying the balance of opinion for years or possibly decades.
There is now a real danger of what Alexis de Tocqueville in the nineteenth century called the ‘tyranny of the majority’, a situation where the Government takes action supported by the majority of voters which significantly harms the rights of minorities. To be strictly accurate, through a quirk in the Electoral College system the United States is in danger of falling into a tyranny of the minority! All this means that significant autocratic power (through Executive Orders and sackings of Government Officials) is being wielded by a President intent on pursuing an oppressive agenda.
It is for these reasons that while replacing the House of Lords is an urgent task, to make it a fully elected Chamber would be a mistake. Instead a new upper-house Senate should be only part elected with the majority of Senators appointed – but by a system vastly different from the present one. This would enable us to give legislative responsibility to groups which at the present time are grossly underrepresented in Parliament. Underrepresentation may occur for any number of reasons, for example, disability or prejudice against being selected by major political parties as candidates.
Appointed Senators will allow us to balance experiential gaps in the lower chamber. At present such groups are only consulted on specific pieces of legislation as expert witnesses. But it would be far more effective to have the possibility of every piece of legislation reviewed by, say, a group of blind or wheelchair-bound Senators.
Clearly the size of the new Senate must be greatly reduced from its current bloated size stuffed as it is full of toadies, oligarchs and the left-overs of an autocratic past. For this reason the second Chamber would have specific responsibility for liaising with special interest and civil society groups outside Parliament. Finally the appointment of Senators must be taken out of the partisan political domain with citizen nominations to the Senate overseen by an appointments commission. Such a commission would have a specific remit, for example, to check that nominees are resident in the UK for tax purposes. Nominees who do not meet these criteria will not be considered further.
Final selection would be undertaken by a citizen panel which would be drawn in a similar way as a jury but on a national basis. Appointments would be made for a fixed period, for example 8 years, which could be renewed once by agreement of the citizens panel.
The existence of such a Senate would mean the Government working much harder to ensure legislation is fair to all sections of the community. While certainly not ruling out wealthy Senators, the possibility of decisions hinging on people such as Andrew Lloyd Webber flying in for the express purpose of passing oppressive acts (such as the Tax Credit Cuts) would be eliminated. Likewise the increase in Senators committed to doing a competent job will mean the body is fully able to examine evidence on the effectiveness of enacted legislation and hold the Government properly to account. This is currently a woeful inadequacy of our system
It would also mean the feared suppression of rights which may occur in the United States over the next four years would be minimized!