Democracy has been under attack from within. If we value it, it needs protection. Before democracy can be restored, we should remind ourselves why it should be. Since David Cameron called the Brexit referendum, there has been a shift away from parliamentary accountability in this country [and in other supposed democracies], deliberately driven by elected leaders seeking to make laws without parliamentary scrutiny, to divert the nation’s resources to powerful cliques and to further reduce rights and justice for the bulk of the population.
The point of democracy is that it is rule by and for the people. It is a fragile system, because it relies on those elected by the people to run things with this as their guiding principle. As has been evident in recent years, without strong constitutional safeguards democracy can be vulnerable to misrule and manipulation by those more concerned with self-interest than with the needs of the people.
The purpose of government
So what do we seek in a government, when we place our votes in elections? We should surely all have some reason for that vote: to make it count; a purpose. We would all like improvements and protections to our lives, would we not, be these economic, personal or social? Politicians, it seems to me, increasingly base their claims for our votes less on what we see as being needed than what they do; and there may be a wide gulf between these.
Too often, those who put themselves up for election do so with little or no idea of what matters in the daily lives of those whose votes they want to attract. Candidates decreasingly come from backgrounds like those of their would-be constituents and are selected to represent what the Whitehall parties determine rather than local priorities. How many voters would agree that “stopping small boats” is in their top five priorities for their own well-being or that of their community?
We now have plutocrat PM Sunak claiming that “signs are moving in the right direction” in respect of the UK economy, in a period when millions of citizens face destitution, poverty, hunger and mental ill-health in the very country for which he has responsibility. While he sees it as a good sign with the trend-line for inflation easing off, voters are experiencing food costing 19% more than it was last year, without their income matching this increase; while public services to which they need to turn are deliberately underfunded and crumbling to an unprecedented degree.
Building a good society
Politicians of all stripes too often seem to see running the country as about achieving macro-economic objectives: GDP growth; productivity; balance of payments, money supply, low taxation etc. But these cannot just be a matter of some economic scorecard, when the real needs of the people although “micro” are nonetheless big to us: eating, heating, health, prices etc. This is the true realm and purpose of politics. Of course, the economic pot has to be sufficient to the needs of the nation in both short and longer term but there is something cold and abstract about macro-economics, so often based on think-tank theories, detached from real lives. Redistribution cannot be a dirty word, when the nation’s income is created for that purpose. When tax-payers see no benefit from what they pay, it is time for a re-think.
Surely the first recipients of public funds should be those most unable to take control of their own lives: those with learning or other disabilities which inhibit economic independence; those who for no fault need a safety net, who have to pay the latest higher prices just to eat. Yet can we truly say that these have any priority in how the country is currently run, how the cake is cut? The opposite is the case: they await the crumbs which rarely fall from the left-overs of “economics”, a game played by the already wealthy. John Major is quoted as saying about his affluent Chancellor, Lawson: “He did not know what it was like to run out of money on a Thursday evening, whereas I did”.
It is not the role of any minister to be the technocrat, the economist, the specialist, the autocrat. Their job is political – to build a good society, guided by the expertise of others and for the benefit not of their party but of their “polis” or State. They must not only act as parliament demands but be accountable to parliament, not merely to their party, to do so. They must not lie nor feather their own nests but be accountable to the needs and wishes of the people: servants, not masters, to build a society which is good for all, not just themselves; protecting rights, the economy and democracy itself. Otherwise we will continue towards oligarchy, plutocracy, autocracy – none of which involves the people except as serfs.
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