01 June 2009

Hope for British democracy?

Hope for British democracy?



Behind all the excitement of the MPs expenses scandal, there lies a kernel of hope for the British democratic system. 


Michael Martin had requested that the Metropolitan Police investigate the leaking of the MPs expenses to The Daily Telegraph, however the Metropolitan Police declined to investigate further as there was little likelihood of prosecution.


The police spokesman said: "The assessment was informed by a recent published decision from the Director of Public Prosecutions that was, in part, applicable to this case. From this the Met believes the public interest defence would be likely to prove a significant hurdle, in particular the “high threshold” for criminal proceedings in misconduct in public office cases.

"Whilst the unauthorised disclosure of information would appear to breach public duty, the leaked documents do not relate to national security and much of the information was in the process of being prepared and suitably redacted for release under the Freedom of Information Act."

The “recent published decision” related to the view of the Director of Public Prosecutions (“DPP”) regarding leaks by the MP, Damian Green, and the Home Office civil servant, Christopher Galley.  Within that statement, the DPP also stated that “some of the information leaked undoubtedly touched on matters of legitimate public interest, which were reported in the press.”


I believe, and I cannot believe that many people would believe otherwise, that the information regarding MPs’ expenses, also, touches on matters of legitimate public interest even if the Metropolitan Police did not allude to that.


For democracy to work and for the electorate to believe in it, the power of the central governing body has to be controlled and monitored.  In part, this is done via elections, however these are a relatively blunt tool (after all General Elections are only every 5 years and the last 2 Governments have actually hung around for around 15 years each) and have become rather too predictable – two parties competing for power in a mock Machiavellian dance over policy documents that they then ignore and fail to meet.  If politicians were directors of a publicly listed company, they would potentially have been prosecuted for misrepresentation within their Manifestoes.


But in this instance, the press has been allowed by the police to carry out genuine, legitimate investigative journalism and expose the electorate to the gross behaviour of their representatives.  And as a result, some MPs are having, or will have, their careers terminated or drastically set back, and it may even bounce the Government into calling a General Election.  After all what democratic legitimacy does the current Parliament have to sort out the current mess over expenses when they have patently failed to get it right in the first place.  The upcoming European and Council Elections will certainly impact the political landscape significantly for all parties with the potential upswing for some minor parties.


For me, the most worrying trends within New Labour have been their attempts – in the name of modernisation – to remove some of the checks and balances that have evolved within the Democratic system, and so increase the power of “Parliament”, or at least a small group of people surrounding the Prime Minister (many of whom are unelected). 


Gordon Brown believes he is the saviour of the British political system (as well as the economic system), however it is his belligerent belief in his own intellectual ability (perhaps even intellectual superiority) and that it is his right and duty radically to change our constitution that is dangerously arrogant.  Gordon Brown is not Britain and his belief that "I am Britain" (or perhaps in the words of Louis XIV "Je suis l'etat.  L'etat c'est moi" which seemed to be what Gordon Brown was saying on his Radio 4 interview this morning) is the vanity of power before a revolution, and this all looks similar to the build-up to the French Revolution that eventually overthrew Louis XVI, but was actually precipitated by the financial crisis in France after the 7 years war and the American Revolution.  And just like Louis XVI, Gordon Brown was not elected by the people to serve the people as their leader.


It is fundamental for the integrity of democracy that the centralising power of the Prime Minister is rolled back.  It is important that external institutions, such as the legal system, the Civil Service, Local Councils and the Press, can be enabled to scrutinise and moderate the natural inclination for the central power to over-reach its mandate.  But this Government does not have the moral mandate to make these changes and this Prime Minister does not have the moral mandate to lead Britain.


Overall, I am a great believer in the fact that it is often the small things in life that have a greater impact than the big, so (for example) the quiet word in the ear of a Minister that something within a Bill is not quite right may be more important than the discussion of that Bill in the House of Commons.  Moreover, the House of Commons failed to moderate Tony Blair and stop New Labour waging wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the House of Commons has been unable to get a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty which impacts questions of British sovereignty.  More press activity and power in the regions might serve to clip the wings of an arrogant House of Commons and expose the limp acquiescence of Backbenchers and the Opposition to anything the Government and the Leaders of the Parties propose.