Thursday, 24 May 2012

Democracy Doesn't Work - Vol 1

Thanks to ManNotNumber, one of the many people who have helped my political education over the last few years. This one is for you.

Adolf Hitler and Robert Mugabe have two very important things in common. The first is obvious, namely that they are both members of what could unfortuately be described as the Premier League of tyrants and dictators. Hitler's crimes against humanity are known to anyone who bothered to attend school, while Mugabe's demented anti-white racism destroyed what was once known as 'the bread basket of Africa'. In terms of scale, he was of course nowhere near the 'achievements' of Herr Hitler, but in all likelihood this owed more to opportunity than it ever did to motive. Mugabe was and remains one of the most evil pieces of shit in modern history.

But here's the second piece of common ground - both were victorious in elections that, at least nominally, could be considered free and fair at the time. This makes you think about democracy itself, something that I thought must always be a positive thing until I grew up, met a few wise sages who actually knew their politics and began to appreciate the differences between democracy and liberty. People make the mistake of equating the two with each other, as I used to, but they are of course entirely removed and can often run counter to each other.

It's worth exploring why I made that mistake. Part of it probably came from a working class background where the representation of us 'little people' meant something against a backdrop of Tory rule. Whatever this bunny thinks of the Labour party, make no mistake about the useless Tories. They are only a microscopic fraction better, their governments are invariably rotten to the core and diseased by corruption. They steal, they lie, they preach morality and 'family values' to you and I, then get caught getting spanked by a prostitute in a hotel room (or something like that - not that I'd otherwise be bothered what consenting adults get up to).

Meanwhile, they serve their client base, namely the vulgar yuppie class and undeserving rich, with aplomb - but more of that later,

Watching the House of Lords on television as a kid is enough to turn you off the hereditary principle and support just about any alternative. Most of those dinosaurs were clearly drunk, asleeep, or both. Many of them appeared perilously close to the trapdoor laid out by the man upstairs and can not possibly have been at anything like the peak of their powers. As times have changed, ridculous and incoherent old men whose great grandfathers had successfully shot a grouse back in 1794 have given way to failed ex-politicians who stood for election and got the snot beaten out of them (see Neil Kinnock, Baroness Warsi).

Is an elected second chamber preferable to the current circus or the old one? Probably, but that doesn't mean it's the right answer, for reasons I'll go into. Quite what the solution is I don't know. Most of the ideas on the table sound positively vile and this bunny is far too busy to come up with his own.

So the reasons for thinking democracy to always, always be a good thing were more than a tad naive but one hopes you can put this down to the relative stupidity of youth. Most who appreciate the concept of liberty will regard the original draft of the US Constitution as one of the most important documents in history. It set out how a nation intended to carry on by laying down clear markers as to what the state could not do to the individual. Of course, the likes of Woodrow Wilson, FDR and that disaster zone of a president George W Bush did their best to chip away at all that the founding fathers stood for, but that is a failing of politicians, Supreme Court judges and a lack of wll to defend a documnent that was sacred, not the document itself.

Let me ask you this - how many times does the word 'democracy' appear in the US Constitution?

The answer is none, which is inmensely important. Thomas Jefferson once described democracy as a system by which "fifty-one percent of the population may take away the rights of the other forty-nine". I'll start by being playful - tonight's dinner was spaghetti, garlic bread and a couple of glasses of Shiraz (it's been a hard week at the office). Now, what should I have tomorrow? Maybe I should put it to some sort of democratic vote - here are the choices:-

Jamaican Curry
Fish cakes with savoury rice
Ham and Mushroom Taglietele
Ready Meal Paella (perfect as it means I just bang it in the microwave)
Fish and Chips (takeout, not done myself)

In the interests of a free and fair ballot, I should state the following:- I hate both ham and mushrooms, while any sauce with too much cheese in it is bound to make me violently ill. Of course, this would have come up anyway in the pre-dinner debates that appeared on some very obscure TV channel. All of the other options are cool with me, so you know where to vote if you're feeling spiteful.

This discussion may seem rather odd, but then democracy generally is - the point is that whatever you vote for, this bunny is the one who picks up the tab and has to pay for it. That's basically how things work in a democracy and is what Jefferson was getting at - the fity-one per cent are able to demand not only 'things', but that the other forty-nine will be those that pay for them. If you look at the current debate, what you end up with is a set of competing client groups, represented by dud parties doing their bidding for them at the expense of someone else. The Holy Grail is 51%, or more like 37% in a first past the post system.

Parties need their client groups to survive, but the paradox is that they reach beyond them by essentially denying the existence of that client group. For example, the Tories rely on crony capitalist filth for donations while claiming that any economic system that makes people rich must be a good thing - ergo, the undeserving rich do not exist. Labour attempt the same magic trick with the workshy and public payroll leaches looking for an easy life. Little Englander or Racist parties (BNP, English Democrats, a section of UKIP) deny their own existence while lamenting the PC nutters of the Lib Dems, Greens and a section of Labour. The opposite also applies.

These groups compete against each other in what we call 'democracy', while the rest of us, who know that all of these unfortunate factions exist to some degree, wonder what the fuck is going on. No wonder so many of us can't be bothered taking part and feel detached from the whole thing. Democracy is not for 'ordinary' people, and caters instead for those who really have something to win or lose. What do you think the turnout is amongst those protected from reality by the taxpayer gravy train, be they public sector leaches or bailed out bankers? Or people who are openly racist? Or PC loons? I'll have 20 notes on it with you that it's a lot higher than the national average.

If prisoners get the vote, it could have all sorts of unintended consequences - we've had the Pensioner's Party, so why not the Prisoner or Porridge Party? They would have no problem choosing a colour for their rosettes on election night - it has to be black and white stripes. I can imagine their policies now:- cigarettes to become legal tender, increase the £9 a week pocket money to £900, make hetrosexuality illegal (to steal a great line from the film 'Layer Cake', "fucking women is for poofs").

Back to reality - what is really required in this country is a written constitution or Bill of Rights, something that makes absolutely clear what the State cannot do to or take from you. To work, it needs to be bigger than whoever is in office at that moment in time, backed up by an independent Supreme Court that can prevent governments from passing laws that are unconstitutional - regardless of public or parliamentary opinion at the time. All of this is profoundly anti-democratic, illustrating how liberty and democracy frequently pull in different directions. If you have nine people living on a street, and five decide to enslave the other four, then steal their possessions, is that ok? Yes, it's democratic, but is it right?

And is what I have for dinner tomorrow really anyone's business but mine? Be assured I wasn't planning on eating someone else a la Dennis Nielsen...

One of the major issues that came up but a few months ago was that of elected police chiefs. I was going to write a lengthy piece on why they were a disaster waiting to happen (for utter shame, LPUK supported them). Then John Prescottt announced that he was one of the candidates and I rationalised that this in itself was enough to win most of you over to this bunny's side of the argument. Elected thugs in uniform is one of the worst instances of 'democracy gone bad' I can think of, and Prescott in uniform, well do we need to go there?

When finally figuring my politics out a few years ago I stumbled across something called the Nolan Chart, which explains the two dimensions of political thought. On the axis for social and constitutional policy, the authoritatian end was bracketed (Populist) and it makes complete sense. Anti-terror laws that imprison without charge, the prospect of restoring the death penalty, nationwide e-mail snooping and other wacky authoritarian measures are popular, because  a mass of incredibly stupid people never believe these things will impact their own lives. Perhaps they accept that abuses of power take place, but there is a failure to compute with the sense that this makes themselves as vulnerable as anyone else.

So I'm not surprised that elected Judge Dredd wannabes are popular, and expect the contests to be a sort of 'race to the bottom', both politically and constitutionally. "I will uphold the rule of law, defend civil liberties, protect the presumption of innocence at all times, seek to limit the use of surveillance to its minimum and ensure that every defendant gets a fair hearing" is at best an unlikely vote-winner. We're back into the Dutch auction on who can be 'toughest on crime' again.

More 'Democracy Doesn't Work' to follow soon. Take care and thanks for reading.

4 comments:

  1. This is a really good post Daz, and you've covered quite a lot of issues. It does seem that democracy goes to the highest bidder, as you say those with something to lose, or certainly something to gain. Thee hypocrisy of the present government is breathtaking, but would a Labour government be much different? The inference is that Labour is the alternative to the Tories, but from where I'm standing, and I'm no political animal really, they both seem to be singing largely from the same hymn sheet; what's the point of that? The rich prosper, especially the SE and London, and the rest of us can go to hell it seems.

    Ah, a Bill of Rights, laying down in print what governments, those elected and even unelected, can and can't do; yes absolutely but of course the very people we might expect to conceive of such a bill are the very people the bill would keep tabs on; so there is the first major obstacle. I think genuine grassroots democracy in the UK is virtually non-existent, for a number of reasons; apathy being one of them; the second being that those with money and any kind of power have far too much influence and sway, and you can bet your life those power-brokers, of all kinds, in London and the SE do not want to relinquish one iota of power or influence to any other person or region outside the SE.

    Great post Daz.

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  2. Thanks TC - much appreciated.

    Of course it would be a completely different type of statesman that would bring up the whole notion of a bill of rights, so in that sense there's less to worry about than you'd first think.

    Are the Labour Party and the Tories any different? Not fundamentally, no. I get called a leftie and a Tory about equally so must have done something right over the last 12 months or so. The truth is both are useless, but model the economy and fiscal policy slightly differently to cater for their client base.

    My hunch is that were Labour in power now, they'd be giving the bankers a slightly rougher ride while driving a softer bargain with the unions that fund them. The way in which things were done would essentially be the same.

    The South Centric thing - well, London is one of the top cities in the world, so a bunch of powerful people is more likely to come from there than it ever is in Manchester or Glasgow. Just one of those things and not necessarily a curse in itself as long as policy is not loaded in favour of London and the South East (no we should never have bid for the Olympics, a glory parade for politicians more akin to dictators in banana republics - let them get on with it).

    Think that answers all your main points - thanks for reading.

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  3. Mugabe was not just anti-white. As a member of the Shona tribe he was also anti-Matabele. One of his first acts on coming to power was to slaughter at least 10,000 Matabeles. It could be more like 30,000.

    You are absolutely correct that democracy can easily become the fig leaf for tyranny.
    In fact, as an aside, one of the strengths of the house of lords is that it is not democratically elected.

    Socialism is actually, now, a tool of the elite to impose collectivised control.

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  4. Hi John - I've just started reading Henry Olonga's autobiography and he mentions that it wasn't just whites who got it in the neck. Thanks for filling in the blank.

    He ruined what could have been a great country and one of Africa's faces in the developed world. What has taken place in Zimbabwe is nothing short of tragic.

    The House of Lords is a curious question and the only solution that would make sense from where I'm sat is to have genuine experts on real life subjects in there selected by an independent body. Maximum of 200 members and a one-in-one-out rule where someone only gets in if a current member retires or dies.

    This would at least prevent the issue of political appointees, since successive governments abused the Lords and filled them with their cast-offs and failures.

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