Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Democracy Day

Yes, 750 years ago today a French-born military dictator and hostage-taker (King Henry and his son) summonded what is being called the first English Parliament.

Parliament, there's a French word, coming as it does from the verb parlez - to talk - and boy, do they! 
And while we're on the subject, The House of Commons (which is what we're really celebrating today - as Simon de Montfort took the radical step of inviting local worthies as well as Barons and Bishops to parley 750 years ago) wasn't 'common' at all. You wouldn't find any ordinary men (still less, women). But then the term 'commons' doesn't mean common at all but comes from the French (oui) communes, meaning the place where people from the shires came to parley.

I'll get my anorak.

But before I do, and before we all pat ourselves on the back in a typically self-congratulatory manner, here are a few more facts about our English so-called democracy:

1. It costs a fortune.
In spite of the fact that as few as 15% of voters bother, local councillors can claim in excess of £20,000 per annum and qualify for a pension. And for what? No doubt there exist some dynamic, dedicated and effective local authorities out there but I've yet to come across them. And I've experienced a few. In most cases they seem dominated by self-interest, inertia and incompetence. Did I ever tell you how many years I and many others had been pressing our council for parking permits? 

2. It's a merry-go-round.
Ok, that's party politics rather than democracy. But if you want an example of the 'all change' every few years philosophy of Westminster, just take a look at education. Changes in the last ten years alone include: a reformed national curriculum (2009) followed by a new national curriculum (2015); sweeping changes to GCSEs (almost annually); Free Schools; Academies; a National Qualification for Head Teachers followed by the abolition of the National Qualification for Head Teachers. I could go on. But it's too depressing. 

3. Local, schmocal

Of course, party political meddling isn't just confined to Westminster. Local councils have their share of the yah-boo-sucks if they want it, we don't (in spite of what might be best). Our local council had a party that, a few years ago, really got to grips with traffic problems in the town. (Any surprise that they were Independent?) But once the Tories gained control, what happened? 

4. There's too much

You can have too much of a good thing. And I'm convinced we've got too many elected representatives drawing fat expenses cheques (see above). And the problem with electing councils, or parliaments, or talking-shops of any kind is that issues get lost, either because they're too complicated or because our representatives don't think it's sexy enough for them to represent us. Do you know how many MPs voted in a debate last year on autism? 11. Eleven. Out pf 650. 

5. It's inefficient.

I'm not saying no democracy, oh no. I'm just saying, less democracy. More ain't always better, fewer elected representatives who can be more easily held accountable and swiftly removed should they get ideas above their station.

Because, in the end, it's the parley that's wrong with Parliament. Too much talking, not enough thinking. Too many debate talked out of time for obscure party reasons; too many votes and speeches made solely by virtue of having (or wanting) to tow the party line. And too little speaking us for us, the people that put the politicians there. 

That is, if we voted. 

But as his country's great wartime Prime Minister once said, The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter...

In which case - why bother?

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