Posts Tagged ‘local elections’

Hope for British democracy?

Monday, June 1st, 2009

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.


To vote or not to vote

Monday, May 18th, 2009


The MPs expenses scandal rumbles on.  While I am (like everyone else) angry at the complete contempt of parliamentarians for the public’s money, I am actually not that surprised by it.  We have not apparently moved that far since the Reform Act of 1867 and the end of rotten boroughs, or perhaps we did move forward only to fall backwards as politics became professionalised and MPs stopped thinking for themselves, sticking to the party line in the hope of benevolent patronage from their party leadership.


In the real world, claiming false expenses usually results in summary dismissal without any rights, i.e. it falls outside of the normal disciplinary procedures, and the potential of getting the Police involved.  Repaying falsely claimed expenses does not remove the original crime, otherwise every burglar and fraudster would simply repay the value of the items stolen and escape a jail sentence.  Maybe even worse for the House of Commons is that Radio 5 is today running a feature on what outrageous joke expenses claims can be made; this means that MPs are now being seen as a bad joke rather than people to respect.


Strangely however, it’s not the ethical vacuum within Westminster that exercises me, but rather the fact that as we come into another round of elections in June this year and a General Election next year, I feel completely disenfranchised.  For some time, none of the political parties has spoken out to me with political ideas that are in line with my own political, social and economic views.  This includes the fringe parties even more so than the mainstream political parties.


I will vote because that’s what I do; I don’t believe in wasting a vote.  However, if there are more people like me who vote in an apathetic way – even though I have political views and am interested in economics and social issues – then the disinterested vote is higher than the 65% who don’t even bother to vote in local council elections.  Yet councils control a budget of about £60 billion every year. 


There has to be something wrong with a system where 40% of electors in the UK don’t bother to vote in general elections, where a large proportion of those who do vote don’t care that much about it and yet are completely relaxed about giving politicians (European, national and local) power over our lives.  This power comes in the form of law, regulations, social engineering, health, education, going to war, planning, taxation etc, together with a vast budget of our money. 


Something needs to be done to give the political system back to the people, or perhaps even open it up to the electorate for the first time.


Note:  in General Elections, 60% cast and vote and 40% do not, whereas in local council elections 35% vote and 65% don’t.