Tag Archives: democratic deficit

Is It Time For A New Chartist Movement?

The People’s Charter of 1838

The Cat thinks so. The original Chartist movement began in 1838, six years after the First Reform Act was passed,  which extended the franchise to property-owning males and abolished the Rotten Boroughs. Sadly, it didn’t go far enough. The working class were still effectively excluded from the franchise, yet they were still subjected to the tripartite social dictatorship of the aristocracy, the landed gentry and the industrialists who were represented in Parliament by the Tories and the Whigs. The Poor Act of 1834 provided a further catalyst for the Chartist movement. Fast forward to the present day and Conservative government is threatening to rebrand the Poor Law.

Today’s neoliberal politicians continue to talk about The Deficit. The Conservative Party claims that deficit reduction is their key priority and talk about little else. The Labour Party under the Blairite postmodernists bought into their mantra andrepeated the urgency of cutting the deficit for no other reason than to appear legitimate and responsible (sic). What these parties ignored was the democratic deficit. The Conservative government’s demand for deficit reduction at all costs coupled with their creeping authoritarianism has been matched by the Labour Party’s lack of opposition to some the severest cuts to public services in a generation. A weak opposition does no one any good. Even Francoist Spain had token opposition parties that lent a democratic veneer to a deeply reactionary and authoritarian regime. However, now that Jeremy Corbyn has become the new Labour leader, there is a chance that the party will become a proper opposition.

Commentators (themselves institutionalized through their role as lobby journalists) have long regarded the United Kingdom’s Parliament as “the mother of all parliaments”. Furthermore, they will also claim that this country has given the world the “rule of law”, which they claim stems from the Magna Carta, a document that freed the barons but not the peasantry. Because the United Kingdom lacks a written constitution and a bill of rights, civil liberties can be suspended at any time at the whim of a sitting Prime Minister. That’s right, your freedoms are entirely imagined… unless you have the money to pay for them.

Later this year, Tory government plans to redraw the constituency boundaries without offering electoral reforms. This is gerrymandering. They may claim that there are too many MPs. What they really mean is that there are too many opposition MPs and they want to rule unopposed indefinitely. They must be held to account.

The original People’s Charter made the following demands for political reform:

1. A vote for every man twenty-one years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for a crime.
2. The Secret Ballot – To protect the elector in the exercise of his vote.
3. No Property Qualification for Members of Parliament – thus enabling the constituencies to return the man of their choice, be he rich or poor.
4. Payment of Members, thus enabling an honest trades-man, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency; when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the country.
5. Equal Constituencies, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing small constituencies to swamp the votes of large ones.
6. Annual Parliament Elections, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since as the constituency might be bought once in seven years (even with the ballot), no purse could buy a constituency (under a system of universal suffrage) in each ensuing twelve month; and since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now.

Six simple demands. Yet it would take decades before most of these demands were met.

In 1988, Charter 88 was formed for much the same reasons as the original Chartist movement.  Their demands were:

We have had less freedom than we believed. That which we have enjoyed has been too dependent on the benevolence of our rulers. Our freedoms have remained their possession, rationed out to us as subjects rather than being our own inalienable possession as citizens. To make real the freedoms we once took for granted means for the first time to take them for ourselves. The time has come to demand political, civil and human rights in the United Kingdom. We call, therefore, for a new constitutional settlement which will:

  • Enshrine, by means of a Bill of Rights, such civil liberties as the right to peaceful assembly, to freedom of association, to freedom from discrimination, to freedom from detention without trial, to trial by jury, to privacy and to freedom of expression.
  • Subject Executive powers and prerogatives, by whomsoever exercised, to the rule of law.
  • Establish freedom of information and open government.
  • Create a fair electoral system of proportional representation.
  • Reform the Upper House to establish a democratic, non-hereditary Second Chamber.
  • Place the Executive under the power of a democratically renewed Parliament and all agencies of the state under the rule of law.
  • Ensure the independence of a reformed judiciary.
  • Provide legal remedies for all abuses of power by the state and by officials of central and local government.
  • Guarantee an equitable distribution of power between the nations of the United Kingdom and between local, regional and central government.
  • Draw up a written constitution anchored in the ideal of universal citizenship, that incorporates these reforms.

The inscription of laws does not guarantee their realisation. Only people themselves can ensure freedom, democracy and equality before the law. Nonetheless, such ends are far better demanded, and more effectively obtained and guarded, once they belong to everyone by inalienable right. Add your name to ours. sign the charter now!

Source: Wikipedia

Today, over a century later, we continue to suffer from a lack of democratic accountability and it’s getting worse. It is for good reason that our European neighbours refer to this country as “the most centralized country in Europe”. The lack of modernity in the United Kingdom is more than matched by the antiquated nature of our legislature and electoral system.

The Cat demands:

  1. An electoral system that is proportional and fair. The Alternative Vote system put before the British people in 2011 was neither proportional nor fair and was offered as an inferior substitute to force the issue of proportional representation off the table for generations.
  2. An end to the City of London’s undue and disproportionate influence on Parliament. The cosy deals between corporations, hedge funds and other financial institutions and political parties must be ended. Political parties should be state funded to avoid any conflict of interest or corruption of the democratic process by corporations and finance houses exerting influence on them.
  3. The abolition of the monarchy and the honours system.  The monarch should be replaced with a president that has been elected by the people. The president shall serve for a term of seven years and shall be subordinate to Parliament. The antiquated institutions,  titles and roles that stem from monarchy should also be abolished. These include the House of Lords, Lord Lieutenants, Governor Generals, High Sheriffs and similar titles.
  4. The devolution of power from Westminster to the nations, regions and metropolitan counties of the United Kingdom, and the creation of a federal state. Each political division shall have its own democratically elected assembly that is elected by universal suffrage on a proportional basis. The creation of workers or community councils to supplement and complement the work of the larger bodies.
  5. The voting age be reduced to 16.
  6. A written constitution that contains a Bill of Rights, which enshrines civil liberties in statute and defines the roles of the officers and executives of the nations, regions and other political divisions.
  7. An substantial reduction of the election deposit.

Jeremy Corbyn may have won the Labour leadership, but the work outside of Parliament must continue. Politics neither begins nor ends with politicians or Parliaments!

You may have your own idea of what the new People’s Charter should look like. Feel free to add some more.

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Democracy’s A Bitch

Democracy’s a bitch. That’s what the Labour Party’s right-wing is currently getting to grips with. Having changed the rules to elect a new leader, the Blairite postmodernists are now crying foul because Jeremy ‘Juggernaut’ Corbyn’s campaign is leaving the rest of the field in the dust.

The rules were changed, mainly because of pressure from the Tories and their media allies to end the Labour Party’s relationship with the unions,  and when the Tory press says “jump”, the Labour leadership not only asks “how high”, it adds “can I kiss your boots too, sir”?

So far this leadership election has reminded us of the following:

  1. The Westminster elites are contemptuous of democracy and the people they’re elected (or appointed) to serve. John Mann’s call for Harriet Harman to suspend the leadership election is the latest example. Mann is a right-winger who once worked for the right-wing Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union led by the right-wing Ken Jackson. Need I say more?
  2. The last thing the Tory government wants is a strong opposition. It prefers a weak or non-existent opposition, such as that under the current leadership. You can have any opposition party you like as long as it’s right-wing party posing as a centrist party. Even Francoist Spain had token opposition parties that lent a democratic veneer to the authoritarian regime.
  3. The lack of tolerance on the part of the neoliberal consensus (Labour-Tory-Lib Dem-UKIP) for dissenting points of view
  4. There’s a preference on the part of the Tories, the Labour right and their media allies for a revisionist take on history, which has been coupled with a morbid obsession with selectivized moments from the past. For example, the claim that a Corbyn leadership would be just like Michael Foot’s leadership of the party in 1983, and the constant referencing of “the longest suicide note in history”. It is interesting, though not surprising, that the Labour right and the Tories both do this. Neither party is fresh and each copies the other in the hope that no one will notice.
  5. Soundbite politics and presentationalism are no longer viable. Voters pay attention to someone that has a message and speaks with conviction and passion. Many people, especially those who have never really engaged with politics, are starting to see through the superficial crap from Labour and the Conservatives.
  6. According to the mainstream media, the Labour leadership, and the Tory government, anyone who opposes austerity, cuts to public services, wage freezes, the selling off the NHS, fracking, neoliberalism and corruption in public office (Hello, Dave) is an “extreme left-winger”. This term was once used to refer to real left-wingers rather than liberals, social democrats and the unaligned. It’s yet another reminder of how far to the right public discourse has been pushed over the last 35+ years.

Politics is too important to leave to career politicians. Take politics back from Westminster!

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Life on Hannan World (Part 16)

Russell Brand: he must be doing something right if Hannan hates him.

I realise there has been little activity on my blog for a number of weeks. This is because I have been very busy with other things. I won’t go into detail but these things have taken a great deal of my time and demanded my utmost attnetion. It’s also likely that my blog output will be patchy over the coming weeks, though I expect to do some blogging closer to the General Election.

I’ve resisted the temptation to comment on Russell Brand because he has been covered from all different angles by all manner of people. Brand’s associations with Laurence Easeman have been the subject of considerable discussion since last October, when his book launch was cancelled after Easeman’s anti-Semitism and fascism were revealed. Under the circumstances, Brand did the right thing by cancelling the launch. At least Brand turns his back on fash and racists. Daniel ‘Anglosphere’ Hannan, on the other hand, airbrushes the latter.

Brand’s appearance on the national political stage has got tongues wagging on the Left and as for the Right? Well, they aren’t taking this at all well. Why? Because they’re in the firing line and they know it. I found this blog from Hannan that attempts to paint Brand as a wannabe dictator.

Russell Brand describes himself as a “comedian and campaigner”. While we might wonder at the first epithet, we can’t argue with the second. The man has built up a huge following among the angry teenage Lefties who dominate Twitter. His theme is that all politics is corrupt, all MPs are plutocrats’ stooges, and all rich people – except him, naturally – are part of a racket.

Bitchy and bitter. “Twitter” Hannan opines, is dominated by “angry teenage Lefties”. Really? That’s news to me. I’ve found many lefties on Twitter but equally, I’ve encountered plenty of vile right-wingers whose idea of free speech begins and ends at insult. They’re also rather fond of the kind of racist and sexist language that wouldn’t sound out of place coming from John Tyndall (deceased) or the bully boys (and girl) of Britain First.

Think about that for a moment. Russell Brand’s quarrel isn’t with the people who have more courage than him; it’s with parliamentary democracy itself. A chap might be making an honest living as, say, a “comedian and campaigner”; but the very fact of bothering to ask his countrymen for their votes would turn him into a shyster.

I love the way The Lyin’ King opens this paragraph with the word “Think”. Thinking isn’t something that either he or his brethren do very well. They react and they presume. Hannan, a Conservative MEP for the South-east, spends his time attacking the European Union, while taking his not-too-insubstantial salary from it. His position on the EU doesn’t differ that much from the Kippers. He is a very part of the corrupt system that Brand stands against.

OK, Russell, so if you don’t like representative democracy, what’s your alternative? Anarchy? Fascism? Monarchical absolutism? An Islamic Caliphate? Because you can’t have a functioning democracy without politicians; and politicians, in every parliament, tend to group themselves officially or unofficially into parties.

More bitchiness. Let’s get something straight: anarchism is a political philosophy; anarchy is a state in which there is chaos and disorder… which is what would happen if we lived in the kind of Randian world that Dan and his buddy Carswell dream about. Most right-wingers can’t tell the difference between anarchism and anarchy and if you attempt to point out the differences, they put their fingers in their ears. Hannan squeals “you can’t have a functioning democracy without politicians”. Well, that depends on what you mean by “democracy” and it also depends on what you mean by the word “politicians”. I suspect Hannan is only thinking of professional politicians that are drawn, as they currently are, from the ranks of the bourgeoisie and the grand bourgeoisie; the scions of the aristocracy, landed gentry and the so-called captains of industry. The very same people Hannan went to school with: in other words, those who believe it is their right to govern by dint of their circumstances of birth. We also see how the political world is explained to us on television by members of the same class as the politicians themselves, who coincidentally attended the same educational institutions. Nick Robinson? James Landale? Tom Bradby?

You might think that Brand’s contention is so puerile as not to merit serious refutation. The chap is, if nothing else, brilliant at promoting his book by courting controversy. But, listen to the ululations of the studio audience when he speaks; read the ecstasy of his Twitter followers. Russell Brand may be cynically boosting his sales, but there are millions out there who take him seriously, parroting his line about parliamentary government being a scam.

Yawn. Someone’s jealous they’re not getting enough attention. Dan? Is that you? Daft question. Hannan is rather good at promoting his dismal books too (like How We Invented Freedom and Why it Matters). In fact, he’s a well-versed in the art of self-publicity to such an extent that when he farts, Fox News is on hand to cover the event. Let’s have a look at the last phrase about parliamentary government. Hannan clearly believes there is nothing wrong and that it doesn’t need to be fixed. Parliamentary politics, as they are currently constituted, is a political dead end. Neoliberalism dominates the thinking of most of Westminster’s politicians and they countenance nothing else. “The market” we are told, “is moral” and the best we’re ever likely to get. We don’t live in a democracy, we live in a tyranny – albeit an elected one. Welcome to the dystopia, leave your dreams, hopes and desires at the door.

I remember hearing the same remarks in South America during the 1990s. Democracy is a sham, all politicians are crooks, voting only encourages them, blah blah. Such disillusionment was the prelude to the populist authoritarianism than has since spread across the continent, knocking aside parliamentary rule in Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and elsewhere. The new caudillos aren’t exactly dictators: they were more or less fairly elected. But, once in office, they set about destroying every check on their power, from opposition media to independent courts, justifying every power-grab as a way of getting even with the old elites.

There’s only one problem with Hannan’s thesis and it’s the kind of people who were running these South American countries: the oligarchs and bootlickers who were in thrall to Washington. They were displaced through a combination of popular suffrage and education; two of the things that were denied to ordinary people during the rule of the caudillos. No doubt The Lyin’ King would like to see a return to the days of Operation Condor when people knew their place and those who didn’t were crushed under the military’s jackboot. How dare you question capitalism’s evident limits and fallibilities?

Could something similar happen in Europe? Well, look at what has already happened. In 2011, Brussels imposed civilian juntas on Italy and Greece, toppling elected governments in favour of Eurocrats. What was the justification for these Euro-coups? Pretty much the same as Russell Brand’s: that democracy had failed. As the then President of the European Commission, José Manuel Durrão Barroso, had put it a few months earlier: “Governments are not always right. If governments were right, we wouldn’t have the situation we have today. Decisions taken by the most democratic decisions in the world are very often wrong”.

Hannan’s reasoning here is sloppy, confused and relies heavily on two things: his antithesis to the EU and his love of laissez-faire capitalism. If you hate the EU so much, Dan, you could always stop taking a salary from it. Just a thought, eh? The idea that you’re fighting an ‘evil’ entity from the inside just doesn’t ring true.

Let me put the question again: what is the alternative? Dislike of party politics has been the justification for every autocrat in history: Cromwell, Bonaparte, Lenin, Mussolini, Franco. And it always starts in the same way, with the arguments now being put forward by Russell Brand.

Scaremongering and histrionics. You will notice how Pinochet is absent from his list of autocrats. Presumably, he was the right kind of autocrat. Pinochet, after all, was bolstered by the Chicago Boys, a group of Friedmanite economists who privatized everything in sight and provided the template for Thatcher and Reagan’s assault on the working class. Hannan is an admirer of Thatcher and the notion that markets will provide [for the rich].  For Hannan, all that matters is the idea of growth but it’s the kind of growth that most ordinary folk can’t see in their wage packets. It’s the kind of growth that only benefits the rich and powerful, who continue to increase rents and prices. In fact, Hannan has written a panegyric to the supposed economic growth in the 1930s in another blog. I shall carve that up in due course.

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