Saturday, 30 April 2011

For today's politicians the people are the enemy

"People who bite the hand that feeds them usually lick the boot that kicks them."
Eric Hoffer

A quotation that admirably sums up the relationship between the electorate and our political class, in that those who complain about a government and throw them out of office do, within a short space of time, return to the fold and support those very same politicians. One only has to look at recent opinion polls to see the last government, vilified in May 2010, now supposedly leading the race to form the next government.

As is well known, politicians are generally held in contempt by the electorate and that is something of a paradox when one realises that those same politicians are forced to regularly reapply for their jobs through open elections. The contempt felt by the electorate may well be due to the fact that an MP should demonstrate their good faith to the constituents that, on their behalf, they have been elected to hold the government of the day to account; that they are not members of a separate caste, but an ordinary citizen elected to represent his/her fellows and realise that the moment he/she no longer appears as such, any moral mandate has been lost. The problem the present political class have is that through their agreement to hand sovereignty and the right to govern to Brussels, the discharge of their primary function is no longer available to them; no meaningful change to a constituent's daily life can be offered. By ceasing to be a means of an expression of popular will, MPs have become no more than parasites in our society.

In 1874 Switzerland totally revised its constitution and it is suggested that the same process needs to be undertaken in the United Kingdom if it is intended to negate the distrust in which politicians are held by the electorate. For too long politicians have been telling us what they are going to do, instead of asking the electorate what it is they, the electorate, want. This only serves to illustrate that politicians have forgotten the basic fact that they are but servants of the people. This last assertion is exemplified by opinion poll after opinion poll showing that the majority of the electorate want a referendum on membership of the European Union, yet the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, having previously promised such a referendum, continually deny that to the electorate; all three parties promise devolution of power to the people, but retain the final decision on matters for which they wish to devolve that power – subsequently appearing as rulers, rather than servants.

On this subject of devolution, consider: there is not one area of policy that has been devolved to the Scottish Parliament that could not be devolved to local authorities. Consider also the Department of Communities and Local Government; likewise there are very few functions for which that government department is responsible that could not also be devolved to local authorities. This leads to the obvious conclusion, is the current system of government – a full time Parliament and full time MPs – the most appropriate? This last question is also prompted by the present cost of Parliament - salaries; second homes; office staffing etc. It is thus worth considering whether the Swiss model might be preferable, one in which a small legislature meet only a few days per year; where politicians are recompensed for their time only and are expected to continue with the trade or profession held prior to their election.

By devolving power on domestic matters to local authorities it would also make local councillors more accountable to their electorates and require them to take a greater interest in local policy and spending – instead of acting as ‘rubber stamps’ for central government. By extending a recall system for MPs to local politicians it would also help to concentrate the minds of those elected representatives. What in effect is being discussed here is a form of citizen legislature, a system whereby local people decide how they wish the society in which they live, to be ordered. It was Keith Joseph who said: “Give people responsibility and you will make them responsible.” That one statement negates the need for such ideas as The Big Society as by instilling in people the need for an interest in politics, politics would then become the part-time profession of everyone who would thus protect the rights and privileges of people and thereby preserve all that is good in our national heritage.

Much is made of the use of referendums in order to effect change; change that the political class would not necessarily prefer. Yet there is another type of referendum, one about which not much is heard, namely what is known as a ‘blocking’ referendum and such referenda are the ultimate check on the ambitions of the political class and guarantee that no party could make major changes without popular consent. Critics of referenda cite the cost involved and this is acknowledged, but it is also contended that politicians, knowing the ultimate sanction of the electorate may be employed, might be less inclined to attempt their normal solution to any problem – that of yet more laws.

The fact that our democracy is in need of total review can be borne out by paraphrasing Charles A. Beard; it is a sobering thought that one of the best ways to get yourself a reputation as a dangerous citizen is to go about repeating the very phrases that the founding fathers of what became the United States used in their struggle for independence and thus their freedom.

Caveat: Of course, readers will be only too aware that to instigate any form of  libertarian society it would be a precondition that we would need become a self-governing nation once again – a situation which would of necessity not allow us to continue our membership of the European Union.


TomTom said...

England had an incomplete Revolution. The thrust of 1641 was that Parliament achieved supremacy. The death of Richard Cromwell and the Restoration brought a weakened Monarchy back into being. The fear of another Civil War brought the myth of Abdication and Parliament as Supreme and then made the English Parliament "British" in 1707.

That the House of Lords was the superior Chamber until the Mid-Victorian period and was unchecked until 1911 made the whole system unbalanced.

It was not The People which was sovereign but The Crown, yet The Crown was subject to Parliament which increasingly used its prerogatives to rule by decree - Order in Council being the core of War Powers and Secondary Legislation

First World War prevented the Revolution heralded in Triple Alliance strikes throughout the period and Britain used Depression and gun laws to control the populace.

The use of War in early Twentieth Century Europe to burn out civil unrest was not accidental.

The result is ruling oligarchies still in place, often the same families, with a top-down political structure

derek.buxton1 said...

I do like the idea of part time politicians as in Switzerland, just one point, most of ours never had a prior job.