I HAVE BEEN re-reading some stuff I wrote a few years back before the credit crunch that triggered the financial crises in 2008/9. Much of what I wrote was about the deterioration of many of GB’s institutions and the rights and wrongs of what passes for a democratic way of life. I also generalised over the downward trend in our moral fibre as a nation that can no longer lay claim to the high ground of Britishness that once set an example to a great Empire and Commonwealth.
Much water has flown under the bridge since a succession of Labour governments dragged us down to meet their lowest common denominator. In addition, we have endured five years of coalition government that brought much stagnation and very little of the reconstruction needed, There is now a glimpse of a new dawn as the sun sets on Labour’s chances of ever being anything but a party of negativism, doomed to fight battles that were lost in the eighties and nineties, when Margaret Thatcher was still a force to be reckoned with.
Nevertheless, much of what I wrote then was about the fundamentals of our so-called democratic institutions, indeed, about our version of democracy. I do not recognise much to do with government of the people, by the people for the people within the ‘Mother of Parliaments’. What I do see bears little resemblance to what Solon created in Athens over two and a half millennia ago. Admittedly he didn’t have to contend with a world that accepted every self-declared sane man and woman living in his City State as a candidate for a say in what went on. As far as people in those far off times were concerned only male landowners and aristocrats (usually one and the same) were entitled to the vote, a state of affairs that was not fully put right (if, indeed, that’s the right phrase) until universal suffrage was introduced by stages in Great Britain.
Politicians then were fairly smug about what they had achieved, thinking perhaps that the change would make very little difference to how the system worked. How wrong they were. But did the changes that came about through the ballot box do this country any real good? I don’t think so. They may have made the do-gooders feel better but it took much more change in the fundamentals of social life than saying that now every Tom, Dick and Harry and his missus could vote.
The party system didn’t change. The selection of candidates eligible to stand for Parliament didn’t change much. If anything the opposing camps simply fortified their enclosures and made sure that only their activists – those who could be counted on to follow the party line – stood any chance of making it to the Palace of Westminster.
Of course, they had to be more assiduous in their efforts to make sure the electorate made it to the ballot box and put their crosses in the right boxes. They had to fight at the hustings (or latterly on the internet or telephone, being too lazy to go door-stepping) to persuade those whose arms they couldn’t physically twist to turn up and vote. This all took money and that meant (even more) opportunity for corruption.
At least in the days of a paternalistic aristocracy/landowning class government there was always the chance of genuine competition between rival interests. There was also the strong probability that an electorate formed of property owners, whatever the personal differences between factions, would give survival and prosperity of the state more than a passing chance of winning crucial arguments. Such people may or may not have had the support of the people whose livelihoods depended on them, but they didn’t have to curry favour with them to fight their corner. Randomness of birth and quirks of nature will have ensured at least a chance of original thinking somewhere in the process.