Saturday, September 28, 2013

Is democracy the answer to the EU?

Leaving the EU would not be the solution to our problems. It would expose the source of them, which is the news media and Parliament. If the former held up a reliable mirror to reality and the latter represented the views of the electorate, we would never have joined the Common Market in 1972.

As I said two years ago ("Voting reform: AV = First Past The Post", 11 April 2011), two-thirds of Members of Parliament got less than half the votes cast in their constituencies, in both the 2005 and 2010 General Elections. Once in Westminster, they have no binding obligation to represent our views and are subject to lobbying and appeals to personal ambition...

... and even less respectable forms of persuasion. For example, John Ward recently wrote how the Civil Service bends arms to serve The Machine:

The reason why there is no cross-Party consensus on the need to fire one bureaucrat in two remains as simple as ever. In the Tory Party, every Minister quickly realises that (often through mates in the security services) the Sir Humphrey with whom they’ve been blessed knows the location of every incriminating negative, and the nature of every peccadillo, related to that Minister of the Crown. When it comes to the Labour Party, Sir Humphrey’s underlings are all members of a trade union affiliated to the TUC. And in both Parties, senior civil servants know the Whips well enough to be able to gather further dirt on the Minister with whom they’ve been landed.

As to the media (who in the UK can be silenced by 'D' notices if they get too bothersome), Albert Burgess' essay on how we were persuaded to vote for entry into the Common Market shows who they work for:

But how to do it? First, organized breakfast meetings at the Connaught Hotel in London; these meetings were attended by Government Ministers, MPs, the British Council for the European Movement and top people from ITV, the BBC and the national newspapers. At these meetings the media people were persuaded to remove all their front line anti-EEC reporters and to replace them with pro-EEC reporters.
They set up a department in a back room of Chatham House where five people wrote thousands of letters all purporting to come from people like you and me, every letter saying what a great idea this EEC was; but the IRD did not have a facility to distribute them, so they were distributed to the central offices of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties and the British Council for the European Movement. They got them signed and sent to the letters pages of the news outlets. By this method they completely skewed the public’s perception of what was best for the Kingdom and themselves and their families.
The problem is not primarily the EU, and leaving it would only be the first of our challenges in setting up an open and wisely-run society.
Of these further challenges, one would be the people themselves, who under a democratic system are inclined to vote for more benefits than they have earned through work - or, in some cases, for more perceived good to others than can be realistically afforded. Harold Wilson saw Party advantage in youthful idealism and financial ignorance and reduced the voting age to 18; now, and for the same reasons, Ed Miliband proposes to lower it further, to 16.
I remember chairing a classroom debate on cruelty to animals. The 13-year-olds turned to the question of meat-eating, since it is not essential to human existence, and decided unanimously that it was wrong. When I asked how many of those present would now immediately cease to eat meat (even sausages, though whether they count is a moot question) the hands dropped.
And when the government is the demos, its undoing is the demagogue. The greatest orator of ancient times was Demosthenes, who swayed the voters of Athens to oppose Alexander, with bad results for many in the city and a completely disastrous one for its ally Thebes, which the conqueror razed to the ground. In our own time we've seen Britain make major mistakes thanks to the fey, guff-speaking fantasist Blair; mistakes that have killed hundreds of thousands of people in other countries.
Indeed, if we could correct these weaknesses in our politicians and our commentators and persuaders and in ourselves, we could probably remain in the EU without any problem.

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