Friday, 24 June 2016

It's the democracy, stupid

I woke up smiling and relaxed this morning. Albeit with a bit of a headache. But also with just a hint of trepidation. I am under no illusions about that task that befalls us. Much that we have taken for granted is now in question. And I don't mean things like EU rights and the likes. I mean on a more subtle level.

There will be a while of uncertainty to come that will influence our decision making on things as basic as whether it is wise to spend money on small luxuries. It forces us reassess some of our habitual spending and default activities even if only on a subconscious level. And you know something? I think that's exactly what the country needs.

You see, when the crisis hit in 2008, it never seemed quite real and for most people it wasn't really real. There was a real threat for a short window only and the fallout was mostly highly politicised wishful thinking. But this, this is something else. This really is a turning point in history. This is a departure from the post war settlement. It is the dawn of a new era not just for Britain, but for Europe. It is a kick in our complacency. It forces everyone out of their comfort zone. It interrupts foregone conclusions.

Some joked in the run up to the referendum "is there a shake it all about option?" - and there was. Brexit. This is what we have done. We have disturbed the order of things and interrupted the schemes of politicians. It is also an interruption for us underdogs too. We are habitual complainers. We must now also change. If we are so keen on dismantling the existing order then the onus is on us to present the ideas.

I note that Caroline Lucas in the Guardian yesterday is once again pushing for Proportional Representation. She is no democrat. PR is for those wishing to subvert democracy - to take short cuts to get ideas onto the agenda that they have failed to popularise. It is why Ukip and the other fringe parties want it. They want to cheat. Instead of climbing the mountain they want to walk around it. This should be resisted.

Moreover, we need a wider discussion about the definition of democracy and the applications for it. The likes of Lucas still see parliament and other assemblies as tools with which to impose their will. That is why Caroline Lucas is more of a fascist than anyone on the right.

The fact is we do not want the power over us in the hands of politicians. Politicians are a necessary evil but we should ensure that we have control over them. In this the answer is not to be found by tinkering with the means of voting for them. PR is their default answer in the absence of any other and it misses the point.

Hitherto now we have relied on the EU to constrain our politicians when really it should be us who constrain them. I am now less convinced that a tightly encoded constitution is the way to go and instead we should seek new structures that engender a different political culture.

What has been missing in all these years is any real opposition. It is instructive that nearly all of our MPs conspired to keep us in the EU with the government wielding considerable influence over them. With the ever present chance of a ministerial post or cabinet promotion there is always a carrot for obedience. Those will political ambition will toe the line. This is why we need a directly elected executive where MPs are excluded. That way the entire house of commons becomes the official opposition. The line of defence between us and our government. 

Much of the reason we are leaving the EU is because public have rejected our political class and that which they subscribe to. An "us and them" mentality has broken out and not unjustifiably. Our politicians have colluded with government rather than opposing it. 

We need a structure which recognises that government is the friend of nobody. It is something we tolerate. In that we need our politicians to serve not as leaders but as goalkeepers to prevent bad ideas reaching the back of the net. 

It is ironic that in the many debates about the EU not being a democracy many pointed to the "unelected house of Lords" as being an example of our system being worse. Such is to misunderstand democracy. It does not matter that the House of Lords is unelected. 

The fact remains that gaining access to one of the lords is far easier than speaking to a minister and the House of Lords serves as the goalkeeper in ways that the house of Commons does not. In terms of the people wielding power, there is more democracy in the Lords than in the commons. 

But they are right in that the Lords is insufficient. With the globalisation aspect we are never going to be making all of our own laws. Even though we are leaving the EU we will still have regulatory harmonisation with the EU and we will still adopt global conventions. The decision to adopt them though must rest with parliament for their scrutiny where they must be free of distorting incentives such as ministerial promotions.

Caroline Lucas is right that Brexit is insufficient to address the systemic democratic deficit but we need a system reboot, not mere tinkering with voting rituals. This is why we must have The Harrogate Agenda

PR has always been a bad idea. It has become a political meme, much like "Australian points based system". It doesn't actually achive anything and in substance doesn't even mean anything. Those who utter it are symptomatic of a system that has run out of ideas. That's why we will have to do more than simply leave the EU. We will need to rid ourselves of Caroline Lucas and her ilk. We cannot expect our politicians to defend democracy if they themselves can barely even define it. 

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