Community Activists Network
Teresa May, our new PM, stated that she wants a Britain that works for all and not just the wealthy and influential. She re-stated this view at the recent Tory Conference, yet the reality is very different. If one reads the newspapers, watches or listens to the news, it is not hard to see that what she and her colleagues say in public and what is real are completely at odds. By simply perusing the information that is in the public domain, it is clear that the Tory party is not on the side to the ordinary citizen; the worker, children, the poor, the disabled, the homeless, the ordinary man/woman in the street. It is still the party of the vested interests. It is still the ‘Nasty Party,’ to quote Mrs May again.
Most people will scan the papers or gain information from the news broadcasts. Of course the media will, as we know put their own slant on the information and support a particular viewpoint. Facts will be manipulated and reinterpreted and in some cases lies will be told. However, the basic facts will remain. As an example, the government allowed Fracking to be undertaken in Lancashire, when the county council refused it. Whether one agrees with Fracking or not, the facts are clear, the democratic decision of the people was overturned by the Tory government. One can argue that this decision is right for the nation and there will be those who will support this and many who will disagree, certainly those who are worried about climate change. The latest survey on Fracking suggests that a large majority in Britain are against the process and favour safer alternatives. In this particular case local democracy was overruled by the national government. The message on so many occasions has been that local democracy counts for nothing. Cameron talked up localism and local democracy, but when it came to it, government ministers trashed the concept. Planning applications were refused only to be followed by appeals and the likes of Eric Pickles, Tory MP granting the application when it fell on his desk. Power was not in the hands of the local people. Therefore Cameron’s localism was nothing more than a sham; a sound-bite. Very much the same as Mrs May’s recent sound-bites about the Tories now being the party of working people.
If we look at a large and complex local issue In Northern Britain, my understanding is that in terms of Devo Manc, the citizens of Greater Manchester did not, as a whole, vote for a mayor. This was Osborne’s imposition, with the lure of money and so called greater control. It was a ‘take it or leave it’ deal, with no time given for the people to vote if they wanted it. This is the scandal that Osborne and Cameron considered appropriate and right to foist on the citizens of Greater Manchester, without giving them the opportunity to exercise their democratic right. As would appear at the present, the people of Greater Manchester are still not getting a real input into the process, hence the need for the People’s Plan in order that the people can have their say. Clearly as it stands democracy is again being trashed.
So what constitutes real democracy? Is local democracy less important?
The basis of a democratic society is simply where people can agree and disagree but have their say. This has not happened in the case of ‘Devo Manc'.
In his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, gave what I believe is the most succinct definition of democracy. He said,
“…and that government of the people, by the people and for the people (shall not perish from the earth)”
The People are the vital element in this statement not the politicians. So Lincoln very much sees power in the hands of the ‘people’. The other element of this famous statement is ‘government.” Just a few words in this address, yet they describe a comprehensive and fully inclusive system of government, which is in the hands of the people. He started the address with the following words,
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
What one assumes he meant when he delivered the address on the battlefield on 19 November 1863, was that all men (today, it would read ‘all men and women') have the right to be free and equally involved in government. All are equal in the process of developing, advancing, improving and ultimately running their country. Essentially, power should not be in the hands of the politicians; it is bestowed upon them by the people, yet this fact is very much lost in today’s Britain and America .
Do we live in a democracy as described by Lincoln, with real power in the hands of the People?
To answer this highly complex question, we have to examine what it is that most people want and where the power actually lies. Firstly, some they want, power, wealth and control. But on a very simple human level, I think that there are a number of rights/opportunities, call them what you will, that everyone values. I will merely list these and not attempt to discuss them in detail.
People in general want the following (In no particular order);
If you disagree with the list, add to it or write your own.
Are these rights/opportunities accorded to everyone? Are they available to all the people of the nation? Is there an equality chance to take advantage of these rights/opportunities? Does everyone have a real share in what the nation has to offer? I think the answer has to be, No. These basic rights/opportunities are not available to everyone. Just consider Philip Hammond’s recent Autumn Statement and you can again see that those at the bottom are likely to lose in the region of £1700+. Hammond has, as is normal Tory practice, slanted the rewards to the wealthy and refused to address a serious and ever pressing problem of Social Care, which has such devastating influence on the NHS and patient care and support. Yet democracy is said to exist in Britain and America and other nations. Does what we have today, chime with Lincoln’s philosophy of,
‘…a nation conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to proposition that all men (and women) are created equal.’ Again, I think the answer has to be a resounding No.
Where does power lie?
Does it lie in the hands of the people, whether it be in local communities or nationally? One can argue that we in Britain and the USA have free elections and people have the power to change the government every few years. That is of course true, but democracy cannot rest on just one day when the people choose, it is far more involved than that. Parties publish their manifestoes and the nation votes. Once the people have made their decision the elected government does what it promised. This is not quite the case. Firstly, we can only make an informed decision if we are in full possession of the facts. Yet we know that information coming from all parties is presented in a particular way and at times it will be completely false. Take the recent EU referendum. We heard from the Leave campaign that we would be able to, “Take Our Country Back” and that we would be able to spend something like £350 million a week on the NHS. Has this happened and is it likely to, No! Phillip Hammond, our Chancellor of the Exchequer is deciding whether the NHS should have more funding. So that blows that promise from the Brexiteers out of the water. Will it happen when we actually leave, I think not. Do we know what, ‘taking our country back’ actually means? Again probably not! Some politicians have said that we will regain our sovereignly and have control over all our affairs. Simply put our Parliamentary Democracy would be fully restored. However, this is the same group of politicians that extolled the merits of TTIP and will undoubtedly ratify CETA. Thus giving away our sovereignty again, this time not to our representatives but to unrepresentative corporations who will be able to sue our government if it passes legislation that interferes with the profits of these multinational corporations. Power then resides not in the hands of the people, but in the corporations, therefore democracy is trashed yet again. This has serious implications for the NHS and other public services. ‘Taking back control’ is and was as meaningless as Cameron’s concept of Localism. A court case was brought to the High Court recently, which was asked to rule on whether Parliament should have its say in terms of the negotiations relating to our leaving the EU. Thus restoring Parliamentary sovereignty, yet the right-wing media called to three judges, who decide in favour of Parliamentary sovereignty, “Enemies of the people,” and mounted a campaign of vilification against them and those who brought the case.
Power is not in the hands of the people but in the hands of the politicians and their supporters (corporations, the banks and the right-wing press and media). In Britain today that means the Tories have consistently manipulated the information that the electors are given, aided by The Sun, The Daily Mail and Express, to name a few newspapers. Osborne and Cameron’s appalling phrase that did so much to harm those on welfare, “The Strivers and the Skivers’, which successfully turn many against the those who needed welfare payments by deliberately vilifying those people who were at the bottom of the pile. It is true that there were some who saw the welfare system as an easy option, yet most who were on welfare were not on it by choice, as Osborne, Duncan-Smith et al., would have your believe. People cannot make real informed decisions about what will be best for them and their families because of the manipulation of the facts; the convenient omission of pertinent details; the burying of bad news and the constant lies and disinformation peddled. We have seen in both nations, elections that have been deliberately run on fear, loathing and uncertainty. Both Trump, very obviously, and in more subtle ways the Tories, have used racism in the form of immigration, creating xenophobia and hatred. Division has been employed, setting ordinary people against each other and messages have been published that have appealed to the dark side of society. The Truth has been the greatest casualty in today’s political debate. Therefore, democracy has been trashed once again.
If one looks across the ‘Pond,’ we see the same issues facing the Americans as we faced in Britain. Democracy being trashed and politicians ignoring the people and favouring global corporations. The manipulation and peddling of deliberately misleading information is exactly the same either side of the Atlantic. I want to list a few examples of what we and the Americans are living with today and again I am simply going to draw attention to the information in the public domain.
There are more examples, which can be added, that’s up to you!!
A final question about the global political system. Is the election of Donald J. Trump and Brexit a symptom of a world that is utterly sick and tired of the same corruption and self-interest - although, Trump is surely synonymous with the latter! A British political analyst, Patrick Cockburn suggests, when considering the result in the US:
“The beneficiaries are mostly on the right: from the1980’s the mainstream left in Britain, France and Germany abandoned socialism for liberal free-market capitalism as the proven recipe for human happiness, which meant that after 1980 they had no alternative system to advocate and could no longer provide a credible vehicle for protest. The political beneficiaries of disillusionment with things as they are have almost invariably been on the right, as with Trump, who, along with other rightist insurgencies, can plug into resurgent loyalty to the nation state in the wake of discredited globalisation.” I have just read, that following the election of Trump, there are some in California who are looking for separation, and it is being termed ‘Calexit’.
This dramatic change of political mood, if we follow Cockburn’s argument, is the reason for The US election result and the reason for the rise of the far right Marine Le Pen in France or Geert Wilders in Holland. That said, does it explain the rise of the Podermos in Spain or Syriza in Greece or ‘Occupy,’ (although, these leftist movements have gone quiet of late) or even the support shown for Bernie Sanders in the primaries? Cockburn goes on to say that,
“ There is another, more immediate menace stemming from the election of Trump in the US and the Brexit vote in Britain: it empowers and legitimises the crackpots and cranks, those who want to roll back the verdict of the past elections…”
Do these results shed any light as to how the Labour Party in Britain has moved from centre left to be far more left leaning with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as its leader? Corbin is not as ‘crackpot or crank.’ He is also, I believe, a product of the dissatisfaction and disillusionment and therefore not the “maddest person in the room,” as suggested by Bill Clinton, who has very little space to criticise as he and his wife are seen by so many, rightly or wrongly, as a major part of the problem with politics in the US. It would seem that Brexit can be clearly explained if the answer to the question at the beginning of this paragraph is, yes. Has the old order started to crumble? Are we witnessing in some strange way a demand for, ‘…government of the people, by the people, and for the people…’ If this is correct we can expect far greater turmoil, danger and uncertainty in the coming years and quite possibly dramatic changes to the whole political system! Almost as soon as Trump was elected, people in Portland, New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Vancouver and in Britain have protested. However you look at it, this election and the result of the referendum has turned out to be a watershed where global politics is concerned. If the ‘People’ continue to be ignored, as so many of then believe they have been and therefore the disillusionment, dissatisfaction and anger festers and is not properly addressed, the possibility of a real and all consuming revolution in the US, Britain and the EU looms ever closer. The problem is, will it be led by the right and jolt us back to the dark days of the extremes witnessed in the middle of the 20th Century, when racism, xenophobia, abuse of the truth and bigotry were accepted or will it be a movement based on a philosophy of inclusion, tolerance, cooperation, equality and real political honesty? If it is the latter, then we may be at the advent of a new democratic process; a system, where power is firmly placed in the hands of a fully informed people, as Lincoln appears to have envisaged.
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