Monday, 13 June 2016

Brexit will end the strangulation of democracy


It's no secret that I do not like Nigel Farage. I know how the man operates. He is a shallow, calculating cowardly little man. He is also lazy. He is a chancer who bluffs rather than taking the time to familiarise himself with the details. The exact same can be said of Boris Johnson. Of the front line Leave politicians on the right, Gove is the only one I find in any way personally appealing but then I know less about him. What I do know is that he is ill-advised by those surrounding him and his grasp of the subject matter is slim.

As a whole, the Leave campaign is represented by some woeful specimens. Except to register my disgust at Vote Leave I have not found cause to reference anyone from the official campaign. As it happens, this blog has made a conscious effort not to reference politicians at all where possible. I am very much focussed on the issues. Or at least I would like to think so.

This cannot be reduced to a contest of personalities, not least when there is a charm deficit on both sides. It is a contest between inbred Toryboys and smug, snobby, self satisfied "liberals". If we the people make this a tribal contest on the basis of who is representing which case then we will have failed in our task of answering the question. We shall merely have passed judgement on a popularity contest. Or rather a contest to discern who is the least repellent. It's a close run thing isn't it?

And so we must filter out the noise from the Westminster bubble and focus on the issues. And though a central theme of this blog has been the matter of democracy, through the blogging process I now believe the issue is more spiritual than technical.

I believe the EU has a more pernicious and profound enervating influence upon the culture which starts at the very top of decision making filtering through to the most basic of individual acts.

Take any idea or innovation. We must  must ask a few basic questions. Is it is practical? Is it affordable? Is it sustainable? And if we conclude that it passes those tests then we have a solution. The EU however adds a fourth question. Is it allowed?

Listening to the testimonies of various ministers over the years there have been occasions when ministers have justifiably avoided accountability on account of EU policy forcing their hand. This causes an institutional apathy where those we elect to serve us are merely apologists for the machine and no matter how destructive the policy, there is little chance of correction and nobody is ever held to account.

And as much as this is true of national government it is also true at the local level. We have instruments like the Waste Framework Directive along with various meaningless targets which largely dedicate the offices of government to the meeting of statistical objectives rather than serving the public and answering their needs. It also rules out the very possibility of innovation and original thinking. It renders leaders inert. Consequently those offices which could and should show leadership become corporate executive managers; servants of the machine rather than the people.

It is this dynamic which produces the slovenliness within local authorities where public sector officials are famously apathetic, and like their ministers and managers, never taking ownership.

And throughout my career as a a systems designer I have seen this in every single corporate entity. Innovation is allowed but only within very narrow parameters and the only way to get around the constraints is either to break the rules, bend them or subvert them. And over time systems developed in this way entrench inefficiencies which could easily be resolved if there were ground level autonomy.

And as customers of such organisations we routinely bump into the consequences. We must deal with de-skilled corporate call centres where operators are not trusted, have no autonomy of their own, have no licence with which to apply their own judgement and routinely their actions are dictated by hard-coded rules within software. "Computer says no" culture.

Being this the dynamic, where customers cannot get what they need, they go into the cycle of complaints where you enter what we call "the fuck off loop" - where they fuck you around just long enough so you give up and go away. And as toxic as that is when dealing with your mobile phone company it goes double for a public sector beset by hostility, defensiveness and denial. Nobody is responsible, nobody is accountable and you MPs and councillors are likely to be as powerless as you are.

The result is a toxic resentment of politicians and the institutions of government. We have a system which functions well for the most part but it must be judged on how it responds when it fails people. And look what we get. Rothererham. Mid-Staffordshire. And no, I am not blaming the EU for this specifically but it exemplifies what happens when individuals are constrained by the systems in which they work and are not trusted to act as responsible adults. We then see a gradual infantilisation of the workplace, particularly in the public sector. We see a gradual dumbing down.

And it is the mentality of the EU technocrats which produces exactly this. And the clue is in the arguments the Remain camp use. The idea that we will row back on environmental and social progress, that we will repeal rights and revert to the status of savages. It is an inherent mistrust of the people who must be constrained for their own good.

This argument tends to come from Labour, the Guardian and the left. As Sam Hooper remarks: "This is a left wing movement which cares about democracy only when it advances their own particular narrow agenda. John McDonnell isn’t willing to energetically make the case for the things he claims are under threat in case of Brexit. He simply wants those things to be undemocratically imposed on the British people by a higher, supranational authority.

He wants to win without trying, to impose his beliefs on others without doing the hard work of winning them over. McDonnell literally doesn’t care how his policies are implemented, or who is steamrollered in the process – just as long as those clapped-out old left-wing policies somehow see the light of day. You can call that “passionate” and “principled” if you want, if you are still enthralled by the Corbynite glow. But the rest of us should call it what it is – narrow minded, bigoted authoritarianism."

It is born of the belief that the little people will vote against their best interests (of which the left see themselves as ultimate arbiter), and that they must be supervised to ensure they do not get ideas above their station. The assumption that a new Jerusalem is only one more directive away. It perhaps explains why every effort was made to sabotage the possibility of  a referendum on the Lisbon treaty.

And so without that basic right to influence the policies by which we must live we see increasing cynicism, apathy, disillusionment and consequently, disengagement. This is a theme Ambrose Evans Pritchard touches on in his excellent article yesterday.

"[T]he EU as constructed is not only corrosive but ultimately dangerous, and that is the phase we have now reached as governing authority crumbles across Europe. The Project bleeds the lifeblood of the national institutions, but fails to replace them with anything lovable or legitimate at a European level. It draws away charisma, and destroys it. This is how democracies die. They are slowly drained of what makes them democratic, by a gradual process of internal decay and mounting indifference, until one suddenly notices that they have become something different".

And now we are there. It has become something different. A hostile, remote, technocratic system to which you are an inconvenience. The system becomes the master instead of the servant.

And though Brexit is not the silver bullet, it is a gesture. A beginning. A departure from that mistrust in people and democracy. It is a statement that humans cannot be demoted to the status of cattle. It is an exhortation that nothing but democracy will suffice and that without it we are adrift. That is why, until we do leave the EU, we will be back here time and again. We may have our voting rituals, but there is no faking democracy.

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