The Bishops of the Anglican Church have written a pastoral letter. I haven’t read it yet: maybe it will be read to us at church tomorrow morning, but if so there will be a few late lunches as it’s 52 pages long.
Pending reading or hearing it read I’ll content myself with comments on the Guardian’s headline, “Democracy is failing, bishops tell politicians.”
Well, if that sums up what they say, I think they are absolutely right. In my view democracy is failing for the following reasons:
Politicians aren’t just seen to lie, they really do, routinely.
Labour promised not to introduce student tuition fees, they did, and then increased them. We Liberal Democrats pledged ourselves to vote against any further rise, but we didn’t. The Tories promised no top down re-organisation of the NHS, then within weeks of coming to office they introduced top-down reorganisation which was clearly already in an advanced stage of planning before the election when they made the promise took place.
Is it any wonder so many of the electorate say: “You’re all the same, we can’t trust a word any of you say.”?
These are just recent examples. There are many others, not least the case for the invasion of Iraq. Over a long period both Labour and Conservative politicians have been pretending that we can improve the quality of our civic society without raising taxes: in shorthand, have “Scandinavian public services with American levels of taxation. “ This is obviously untrue, but no other party, no, not even the Liberals/Liberal Democrats have had the courage to challenge this undeliverable bribe.
One of the reasons for these lies is that politicians have an exaggerated idea of what they are capable of doing (or poor Alexis Tsipras of Greece is discovering this weekend.) Whatever UKIP might like to think no nation is metaphorically an island, capable of going its own way and ignoring the rest of the world.
Another reason is that the electorate appear to be unprepared to listen to serious analysis of our choices, but prefer catchy sound-bites. Until senior politicians of all the parties are prepared to renounce these and engage in serious discussion it is difficult to see the way ahead.
Our political system is patently unfair.
aa) In the grossly distorted levels of funding available to the parties for campaigning. Things are not yet as bad as in the US where the presidency is “up for sale” but we’re moving that way.
bb) The press is heavily biased to one party, the Conservatives.
cc) The electoral system gives a biased result (more of this later.)
dd) We are certainly not “All in this together.” Bankers and business tycoons give themselves hugely disproportionate financial rewards, mostly avoid any retribution for wrong doing, whilst people at the bottom of society are told that they’re lucky if they have a “zero-hours contract” and the expansion of these is hailed as a government success.
Someone in the riots a few years ago was gaoled for stealing a bottle of water, whist people who swindle society out of millions get a slap on the wrist even if the “system” bothers to catch up with them.
ee) Wealthy special interest groups exercise undue influence governments of whatever complexion.
The political system and its practitioners are subjected to persistent denigration, some of it well deserved , but as senior Tory politician Douglas Hurd (I think it was) pointed out some years ago, it is so much easier for people to succeed in our society be criticising those trying to improve it, than to try to improve it themselves. Think of Jeremy Paxman and his sneer and bullying tactics. I gather he is not to accept the invitation to “have a go yourself” by standing for the mayoralty of London.
The “fun” goes back a long way, I know, - eg the satirical cartoons in Punch in the 19th Century – and was refreshed in the 60s by “Beyond the Fringe” and “That was the Week that Was.” To take the high and mighty down a peg or two has value, but when such denigration becomes the prevailing norm, then our democracy is indeed in danger.
The Electoral system.
Yes, I know, it had to be that for a died in the wool Liberal, but really, if the main engine of our democracy is faulty how can we expect good results? Not only does the present crude system produce distorted results, and permits a party with the support of a modest minority of the electorate (40% of the vote translates to about only a quarter of those entitled to vote on the sort of turnouts we're getting today) to implement their whims against the overwhelming will of the majority, (eg opening up the NHS to privatisation) but it means that the major contending parties moderate their policies to try to attract the minority of “floating voters” in the minority of “marginal constituencies.” Hence, give or take minor differences in emphasis here and there, we really are “all the same” (eg the slavish adherence to further austerity).
Only proportional representation by single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies will enable the parties to be themselves and give us a real choice.