Saturday, May 7, 2011

OK, let's discuss

There have been so many comments and analyses of those election and referendum results that I see no point in doing more than adding a few thoughts that might be interesting to discuss. I was going to post a link to UKIP results but as of Saturday afternoon, the website had not been updated and the news items were still about what had been said during the campaign.

By Saturday evening there was a piece about Young UKIP's results but still no proper tabulation of all candidates, votes and positions. For the time being, therefore, we shall abandon that subject, mayhap to return to it when whoever runs UKIP's website gets his (or her) act together.

It is always difficult to write about local elections and draw any conclusions from them because the results tend to depend on .... well, local conditions and circumstances. Of course, by now we all know that the party that suffered the biggest defeat was the Liberal-Democrat and it couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of people. The supposed anger with the Cleggeron Coalition policies did not really direct itself at the Conservatives who lost very few seats and actually gained some councils. Possibly the reason is that those who support the Conservative party in local elections, that is the absolute bedrock are unlikely to be annoyed about the supposed (but never actually happening) cuts while the Lib-Dim supporters are truly angry with what they see as a betrayal of their principles even if no-one can really understand what they are.

Labour did well but, as we have been reminded, not as well as they did in 1981 under Michael Foot, easily the most disastrous of their leaders.

In other words, this election leaves the same feeling as last year's GE but on a smaller scale: nobody is that enthused by any party.

Which leaves us the unwanted and unneeded AV referendum that was won by a 69 per cent to 31 per cent on a higher than expected turn-out by the NO side. While their campaign was nothing much, the YES side had an even worse one. The real entertainment came with the Prime Minister and his Deputy pitching into each other, rather like Tweedledum and Tweedledee when they decided to have a battle.

Of course, there is an argument to be made for ignoring the whole thing as it really does not matter how we vote for the puppets in the House of Commons, given how much of our legislation comes from the European Union and cannot be rejected even if it actually goes through Parliament, which is not always the case.

All true, but there are still certain aspects of our politics that are domestic and they are often the most intractable ones - education, health and welfare spring to mind. Furthermore, we need to look forward to the day the EU collapses (I am beginning to be cautiously optimistic that it will happen on my watch) and we shall be left with an appalling mess but, at least, we shall still have a workable parliamentary system. Unless, the Boy-King decides to do away with it in some other fashion.

So it is not just because one cannot help rejoicing at the discomfiture of what must be the most hypocritical party in British politics and of all those rent-a-celebs that makes one feel pleased with the outcome. No matter what system is proposed, the one that says people vote for their MP directly and not through a party list is the best one.

Furthermore, the proposed AV system was not exactly going to be helpful to smaller parties, no matter what the Leader of UKIP said (and I suspect it did not help the party much). Some sort of a top-up system would be better for that. What we voted on had one aim only: to make the third party politically stronger than its support warranted, something the Lib-Dims have achieved already, thanks to Cameron's pusillanimity.

What of democracy? This was a question we discussed on a programme I took part in earlier today at ... yes, you guessed it .... the BBC Russian Service. (I suspect my opinions are better known in Russia than in Britain but I am not sure what I can do about that.) Unfortunately, there was no time to go into the subject in any depth but my answer to that is straightforward.

Democracy is not simply a question of votes and government by the majority though, clearly, without that it cannot exist, which, again, makes the AV system suspect. Beyond that there are rights of the minority and individual liberties, both sadly forgotten nowadays by successive governments in this country. After all, what was the attack on the hunting community and, beyond that, on the people who take field sports seriously by the Labour government but an affirmation of the principle that if you are elected you can do anything you like?

It was pointed out to me by a supporter of AV that the only way minority rights can be protected is by them all being separately represented in the Commons. Or, I think, that is what he meant. Certainly he tried to argue that those electoral districts that voted predominantly YES, such as Camden, Islington and Hackney in London, parts of Edinburgh, Oxford and Cambridge had a bohemian population as well as areas of diversity and poverty. Therefore, he argued tentatively, they may be more concerned with minority representation.

Ahem, I responded, my own borough, Hammersmith and Fulham, is very mixed in population. Are you suggesting the people of Islington are really more concerned with minority rights and representation than the people of Hammersmith?

Democracy can exist seriously only if all of us, those who vote and those who are voted in, accept certain principles that go beyond elections while also knowing that legislatures and governments have to be accountable to the people, often in the light of those principles.

I have just finished reading Peter Whittle's new book Monarchy Matters, which deals, just as the title suggests, with the role of the Monarchy in Britain's present and future. One of his themes is the Monarchy's importance as the symbol of something far bigger than transient political or cultural ideas, one that links past, present and future. I am glad to say that Peter (yes, yes, he is a friend and a colleague) writes exactly what I have always said and did even during the broadcast of the Royal Wedding: the whole fuss over Diana showed how important the Royal Family was to so many people in this country.

Writing about the commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of VE Day (appropriate as we are commemorating the 66th tomorrow), Peter says:

Those who turned up that day could cheer and clap if they wanted, in the sure and certain knowledge that cheering and clapping would not be seen by some central political figure as signifying approval for a policy or a particular course of action. They could be there in the knowledge that their reaction was not about to be manipulated. On occasions such as this, the monarch is the personification of the state and of the country; by virtue of the monarchy's hereditary nature, the Queen is also the living, breathing emblem of the full sweep of Britain's history. Can the French president, riding in the Bastille Day parade on the Champs-Élysées, truly occupy such a position and have the same resonance in the eyes of his compatriots, half (if not more) of whom probably voted against him?

When the monarch lays a wreath at the Cenotaph in Whitehall on Remembrance Day, the politicians (prime minister included) are well off to the side, awaiting their turn. They are there representing the government, the opposition, and so on. As such, the Queen barely acknowledges them. She is there on behalf of nobody but the people. We might vote for David Cameron, or be supporters of Ed Miliband, but we do not want either of them ot be laying wreaths in memory of the dead on our behalf.
As it happens, we do not vote for David Cameron or Ed Miliband but for our MP and that is the system that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

It is interesting to watch the efforts politicians make to usurp the Queen's position: all that talk of Blair being the head of state, of Cherie Blair being the first lady, Blair trying to take a leading role in the Queen Mother's funeral and, more recently, David Cameron appearing in the Mall to talk to the people who were lining up for Prince William's wedding. On a slightly different level it, too, is an assertion of the principle that if you have been elected you can do anything, which is not the principle of true democracy.

1 comment:

  1. "After all, what was the attack on the hunting community and, beyond that, on the people who take field sports seriously by the Labour government but an affirmation of the principle that if you are elected you can do anything you like?"

    -- a true insight in a standout article.
    Nowadays, we see that odious principle in action all the time.