Is Britain A Democracy?

The accepted wisdom seems to tell us that it is, but is it?  The British system when examined closely is a strange one; firstly, we have a monarch and we are reminded of this constantly along with the counterpoint, ‘but she doesn’t have any power really’.  This isn’t actually true.

The British system is unusual because it is steeped in vested interests of medieval origin.   In many ways this is the result of not being invaded since 1066.  Since that time, the rest of Europe was often in turmoil, needing standing armies to police their borders, whereas Britain concentrated on becoming a naval power.  As the great historian A.J.P. Taylor said, “The great armies, accumulated to provide security and preserve the peace, carried the nations to war by their own weight.”  Times of upheaval lead to sweeping changes in the way countries are governed, and there was never a comparable crisis in Britain, hence little political change.  Frighteningly little, in fact.  The upside of this is that we have didn’t fall prey to the extreme politics of the first half of the 20th century, but the flipside has been inertia and stultifying inequality.

Here’s what the Oxford English Dictionary says about democracy:

  • a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives: a system of parliamentary democracy
  • [count noun] a state governed under a system of democracy: a multiparty democracy
  • control of an organization or group by the majority of its members: the intended extension of industrial democracy
  • the practice or principles of social equality: demands for greater democracy

So, let us examine this definition.  At first glance Britain seems to be a democracy, because all of us who over-18 have the right to vote (my personal view is that the age should be lowered to 16, by the way).  However, if that is the case why do so few bother to exercise it (only 65.1% in 2010).  Ask people why they don’t vote and the answer is usually “They’re all the same…”  It’s all too easy to dismiss such a comment as apathy or political illiteracy, but the issue is more complicated and in many ways it is elitist to disregard such an opinion – it is better to learn from it.   Are the people in Parliament truly representative of the populace?  Only 7% of children in the UK are privately educated, whereas 35% of British MPs are from private education (20% of whom are ex-Etonians).  Does this qualify them to be our ‘representatives’.  If they aren’t, how easy would it be to find more suitable candidates?  The answer is that it should be more easy than it currently is.

I have a real problem with privately funded education and don’t believe any good can come from it.  It creates inequality and ensures that our society remains divided by class; no child is deserving of a better education than another’s child.  This is an example of the class-system at its lowest common dominator and I will listen to no attempt to defend it.

I have always voted, but can understand the concerns of those who don’t.  They echo some of my own concerns.  What I see in parliament are a political class with even fewer exceptions than ever before.  This is demonstrated by the increasing tendency for politicians to overlook the simple fact that the vast majority of people simply want to earn a decent standard of living and bring their children up in a safe and secure environment.  This may not be an ambitious aim by a politicians standards but it is certainly a valid one, and the fact that MPs seem to hold it in such little regard demonstrates how out of touch they are.

How many of you are tired of hearing politicians talking about the electorate in such a disparaging way; the undeserving poor, the underclass, scroungers, under-skilled, uneducated, etc?  It is disgraceful and indicative of the way our democracy is utterly backwards.  If YOU can’t find employment than THEY are to blame, NOT YOU, and THEY should be held to account.  If Britain is supposed to be a democracy, that’s the way it should work.

Stop Going On About Immigration!

I’ve never been all that concerned about immigration.  Perhaps growing up in Liverpool immunised me against such knee-jerk attitudes, since the city has always been to some extent multi-cultural.  I will admit that Liverpool does have a tendency – like most cities – to be ghettoized; there is ‘China-town’, and a large black community in Liverpool 8 for example, but people in the city have an awareness of other cultures and identities, perhaps owing to our heritage as one of UK’s largest ports.  Liverpool also has its fair share of problems of course, but it is quite a tolerant city.

Racism makes me uncomfortable and as I’ve got older it upsets even more, this is one of the reasons why I dislike politicians who use it to court the ‘populist’ vote.  It has been much documented that racism is caused by numerous things; fear of the unknown, scapegoating, ignorance and disinformation. 

Those who are racist can actually believe they are being reasonable; they’ll cite statistics to support their position, claim immigrants receive preferential treatment from the government, better housing, more benefits, and that they undercut British workers for work.  They even claim immigrants bring with them social problems and crime.  All of this avoids the real issue that so-called ‘illegals’ are usually exploited; exemplified by the fact that many work in sweat-shops, are used as sex-slaves and more often than not do the kind of work British workers would never want to do.  Is this the fault of the immigrants?  No.  It is clearly the fault of their abusers, most of whom are British citizens.

Most immigrants are highly skilled and become British citizens – some have fled dangerous situations in their own countries and just want to live better lives.  Sometimes the UK is partly responsible for the problems in their native countries, either recently or in the past, and there is a price to pay for that.  The tendency among the British is to pompously believe we were benevolent colonialists – maybe it’s about time we were honest about our own history and that may help us to have greater insight about the world, thus prevent us from repeatedly making the same mistakes.  There is a lot to celebrate about this country, but our colonialist history was often shameful and as the Iraq war has demonstrated, we still haven’t learned.  Is it really any wonder that the Middle East don’t trust us, with our history?

The Labour movement should know better than rattling on about immigration.  In fact, New Labour had a very poor record in his treatment of immigrants, using terrorism as an excuse to introduce often punitive legislation – despite much evidence to show that such laws would be ineffective against terrorists.  Locking immigrant families up for months was/is shameful and would be more likely to play into the hands of potential terrorists than discourage it.  This is not the way for a civilised society to behave and was a betrayal of Labour values. 

The leadership contest of the Labour Party has revealed that one particular candidates believes a ‘tough’ stance on immigration will earn votes. Ed Balls seems to have made it a cornerstone of his campaign.   Diane Abbott, to her credit, has tried to defend immigration (her ward is very ethnically diverse, and she’s proud of that).  To me, the Labour movement is supposed to be about compassion, tolerance and equality, not sweeping statements about immigration. Surely Balls doesn’t believe that Labour is still viewed as ‘soft’ on immigration?  Furthermore, is it now the Labour party’s job to pacify bigots?  I certainly hope not.

The Daily Mail, The Sun, Sky News, The Daily Express and similar right-wing media outlets are a disgrace to our society and their influence on British politics must be curbed.  It does the Labour Party a disservice when Ed Balls joins them in spouting off rhetoric about immigration.  We expect this kind of behaviour from the Conservative party who have always been opportunistic and use any dirty trick to gain and stay in power.  I’m a Labour supporter but if the party goes any further down this route it will no longer bear any resemblance to the modern, progressive party it was intended to be.  The Labour party should be about social justice.