A government that refuses to be accountable or criticised
Representative Democracy is being curtailed, undermined and carefully undone… but not in some distant Banana Republic:
Imagine a state where the government puts through a series of controversial changes to the governance of the nation within their first two years of executive power. Changes that see an unelected second-chamber flooded with new appointees, swelling the numbers to unprecedented levels and making a legislative body second in size only to China. Yet despite ‘flooding’ this chamber, imagine that the government becomes enraged that this second chamber blocks some of its legislation. Now picture that this government reacts to being checked by essentially annulling the second chamber’s power to veto bills.
Imagine that this same government also enacts a series of changes to secure its own power and limit its accountability from legal or public challenges. Firstly, controversially redefining the rules for strike action. Introducing a bill, which could contravene international labour laws, making it bureaucratic and difficult for trade unions to support its members through strike action, whilst also encouraging the use of agency workers during a strike to undermine any such protest. Add to this the securing of control over legal processes for appeal – namely, an attack on codified citizens’ rights. The planned removal of an internationally recognised bill of rights, sold as reclaiming democratic accountability from Europe, would most likely be replaced by a new Bill of Rights drawn up and narrowly consulted upon by a government pursuing its own interests. It would seem not too far-fetched to suppose that strike action, already seriously curtailed, could be rendered practically illegal within such a new document alongside the redefining of other workers’ rights. Thus, this government continues its attack on representative democracy by preparing itself the space and opportunity to rewrite the laws that govern its own existence.
Still not done there. Imagine that this government goes still further to undermine the democratic processes of the state. Changing the electoral registration system so that (estimates suggest) nearly 2million people will find themselves disenfranchised from the democratic process… and still there is more! Under the smoke-and-mirrors of reducing costs and government expenditure for ‘economic reasons’, this ‘reforming’ government also instigates a process of reducing the number of elected representatives by 50 – allowing the redrawing of political constituency boundaries in the greatest gerrymandering exercise ever carried out in the country.
Imagine all of these changes, all of these attacks on democratic representation and the process of holding government to account, coming from an executive that holds no overwhelming majority support from the electorate. Let us picture a government that was elected by just 36% of the voters (who went out to vote) – and a mere quarter of the electorate (including those who did not vote)! Unfortunately, none of this is fiction.
So who has presided over such authoritarian measures? Where has such a desperate and unabashed attack on democracy occurred? Is this some Banana Republic in Central America? Have these measures been dreamed up by a despotic Robert Mugabe figure? Most shockingly, no. All these measures are the acts of the UK government – a nation that so proudly champions itself as a beacon for representative democracy around the world.
And the deeper we look into government policies since the General Election last year, the more terrifying and questionable it looks for democracy in the UK. Working feverishly in secret like Alec Guinness’ crew of crooks from the “Lady Killers”, the British government plays fine music on a gramophone to cover the fact that they are committing the most heinous crimes against the people they should represent. As part of practically every measure by the current government, the accountability of those who hold power and the rights of citizens are being eroded. “Academisation” of schools is removing parent involvement from the governing bodies of schools, which are also being centralised to no longer function under Local Education Authorities. Soon not a single school in England will be accountable to their local community, and will instead be run at the behest of shadowy figures that operate beyond the scrutiny and influence of citizens. Beyond schools, the world’s most efficient universal health-care system is also being broken up. Soon, delivery of care will become fragmented between companies and reliant on unelected corporations or ‘businessmen’ rather than doctors or Health Boards who are answerable to local authorities. And this outsourcing of the NHS has already begun, seeing the costs sore and efficiency plummet.
Having a ‘vote’ does not mean having ‘democracy’
There is a desire to cement the privilege, to institutionalise it within the very structure of society, and an ideological sense stemming from a perception of ‘birth right’ and ‘superiority’. Thus the motives for all the changes we see are, at the same time, economic and ideological – and the loss or undermining of democracy is merely a symptom of such economic and ideological reform. Put simply, the citizens of the country would never back such grotesque moves towards furthering inequality and privatisation – and the government know it. Consequently, the majority of people need to be kept in the dark and out of the debate – therefore the power of the people to influence is being thoroughly controlled or curtailed to allow such changes to be ‘done’. How can we be so sure that the public do not back such changes? Almost 64% voted against the current government’s mandate – and many of the policies being forced through were not even in the government manifesto. There are frequent protests. Social Media is awash with criticisms and disbelief at policies on disability, selling off libraries, immigration, school policies, education policies, forcing unfair contracts on junior doctors, Academy schools etc. Let us add to this the recent fallout from the Chancellor’s latest budget and the shift in opinion polls as the opposition (albeit rather slowly) continues to reveal more about the social impacts of the changes being pushed through. Government policies are unpopular on a general level – but the people are only just waking up to the fact that they have ever dwindling opportunities to hold the government to account.
Just because people have a vote every 5 years does not mean authoritarianism cannot exist in a country – even if the elections are fair. Authoritarianism is about control and power – and as has been shown, the current government’s changes seek to secure absolute, unchecked control of power within the executive. Thus it is a slow steady march to authoritarian rule in the UK that is well and truly underway.
Why was there a need to diminish accountability?
The reasons for so much dramatic change to reduce democratic accountability should not be misunderstood as some form of ‘pure evil’. This is not Bloefeld presiding over a manic plot to destroy humanity because he wasn’t held enough as a child. To challenge this slow but steady destruction of our democratic rights we must understand what truly lies behind the motives, without becoming unreasonably hysterical. The motives are the same as they always have been through history. They are: money, and power. Money, because our “elected” representatives are either self-interested in securing their / their family’s economic future, or they feel pressured by the most influential people and companies who hold the real power when it comes to the economy. Power, because power inevitably corrupts – there is a hunger to hold onto power, and/or there is a sense that they are an intellectual elite who would preside over economic ruin for the country if they actually allowed an ill informed public to call the shots or to get in the way. This second point is an arrogant sense of: “we know best”, born from social inequalities (most notably an education system that allows elitist schools to provide for the most powerful positions in the country). Yet this inequality has long existed in the UK – so there must be something else that is triggering the sudden dramatic shift to such authoritarianism. As with most examples of authoritarianism since the 20th Century, it has a largely ideological basis. Within the inequality an ideological fanaticism has emerged and permeated through public schools and clubhouses, dancing around the chilled rims of expensive gin glasses. It would appear that it is an underlying ideological fanaticism for Thatcherite neo-liberalist economics that has produced a generation of politicians that are driving the UK towards authoritarian government processes (and it must be argued that it appears to be a level of fanaticism not seen, ironically, since Marxist extremists). Thus the formulations of these motives have their origins in an unequal society split between the ‘privileged few’ and the ‘devoid of a clue’ – or more commonly described as: the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’.
Lies and contradictions as evidence of growing authoritarianism
Authoritarianism should be a legitimate concern for the British electorate, as the parallels with less democratic systems are becoming worryingly more apparent. We have descended into an Orwellian nightmare of doublethink and doublespeak, where the government proclaims one thing and then carries out the opposite. The paradoxes within governmental claims and the use of ‘carefully spun’ slogans to mask or justify their own policies are constantly contradictory. Thus, ‘Acadamisation’ is about improving school standards, and not privatisation – yet most credible research finds no evidence for the claim academies improve standards and in the meantime the country loses billions in assets as the school properties are sold off to companies. Or what about the government line: ‘Academisation’ is about increasing and improving parental choice – whilst at the same time, parental governors are removed from having any say in the way schools are run.
Further afield we are told how undemocratic Europe is, and how our own democratic system should not be held to account by people in other countries (with whom we share the same laws) – yet that very democracy is tainted and eroded by the ‘reforms’ mentioned above. Recently the Secretary of State for Justice, Michael Gove, spoke of how unfair it was that the UK could be outvoted on issues in the European parliament… Well, there’s a need here for better education of Mr Gove on the principles of a working democracy: Of course we can be out voted – we are one EU member versus many others who represent less than 10% of the people in the EU – that’s how democracy works! If you do not make a good case, if you do not compromise, persuade or engage in debate but instead state what you want and demand it, you are likely to lose a democratic vote when you are outnumbered. Yet the likes of Michael Gove, who have been shielded from what true representative democracy should actually be about, do not understand their own contradiction, essentially arguing that if he (the Justice Secretary) tell the UK what to do without consulting anyone, without any other elected members being allowed to challenge him, that’s more democratic than elected MEPs debating and then voting on policies. For Michael Gove, and our politicians in general, ‘representative democracy’ is about winning a single fight every 5 years (for which you stack the rules so that you can win more than half the seats with a third of the votes) and then you do what you want – unchallenged. This sheer ignorance of the democratic process should send alarm-bells ringing in the hearts and minds of every Englishman who believes that the rule of law and the necessity for voices to be heard is sacrosanct for democracy. It is such democratic tradition that marks the high points in our political DNA. After all, this is the land of the (much lauded) Magna Carter, Simon de Montfort’s Great Council, the Model Parliament, the Putney Debates, the Great Reform Act, Universal Suffrage and the (largely forgotten) campaigning of the Charterist Movement. Today the arrogance, self-confidence and complacency of the current ruling class is evident for everyone to see if you look at how little respect is shown to the citizens for whom the government claims to speak. And for this reason, it must be argued that Parliament needs once again to be returned back to the people.
The thing is that the government is not stupid. They know that the public will ultimately see through all the doublethink, doublespeak and self-serving reform. It will become apparent that politicians have absolute power for 5 years, and operate without any public debate or engagement. But do not misunderstand the aim of this 21st Century doublespeak and doublethink. Unlike in Orwell’s dystopia it is not the aim to persuade or blind everyone into believing what is being said. It is only the aim to delay and confuse the truth so that nothing is entirely clear anymore. Then once it does become clear, the processes and power will have been so far removed from the public that it will be almost impossible to reverse the changes. Furthermore, in the meantime, a few people will have become extremely rich, and they and their descendants will march through the elite clubs of England, and join the next merry-go-round of political governance. The lies and confusion are not supposed to be believed by everyone or transformed into a pseudo-truth…. They are only meant to buy enough time to entrench a system that will secure the positions of a minority well into the future – and thus our country is entering the plutocratic, authoritarian worlds we have so often chastised in other parts of the world…
The flaw and the result
Yet there is a flaw in the whole “authoritarianism through blinding contradictions” approach – and that is the flaw of delusion… Many people who are spinning and putting out the ideological tales actually buy into the visions and spin – just as many members of the public do and will continue to. Thus it continues, and these few will continue to tell us (with wholehearted conviction) of how the reforms are actually enhancing ‘representative’ democracy – how we are maintaining the “Traditions of Magna Carta” – and slowly they become ever more removed from reality. We will all be told to look proudly and fondly at ridding ourselves of the “meddling priest” of EU law. We will be told to proudly embrace a “British Bill of Rights” (that none of us will vote on), to appreciate how our schools are well-equipped and run by “business experts”, or how we no longer ‘pay for other people to get health treatment, because we just insure ourselves’. Or at least, that is the utopian goal and message of the authoritarianism that creeps up on us like the cold, reassuring invisible hand.
However, these deluded voices will probably be silenced if the march to authoritarianism is as successful as is hoped. Like all authoritarianism it will inevitably implode. Reality will march on. The unpredictability of the global economy will continue to churn along. There will be the usual economic crises, booms and busts, rolling finances up and down – squeezing then easing living standards, selling off more and more, fiddling taxes and government expenditure…. It will carry on, until finally people have an urgent need to have a say and demand to be heard. When they do, they will wake up and discover that the cold, reassuring invisible hand has stitched up their mouth…. At that time, the people will find that they are only allowed to communicate once every five years. Even more dissatisfying, they will find that their only form of communication is through a pencilled “X” that won’t be counted for two-thirds of the population. Then, perhaps, comes a time when the revolution will be justified.