Monday, May 18, 2009

Is Parliamentary Democracy Finished?

I stood outside the Houses of Parliament recently, as the controversy over MPs expenses gathered pace, and wondered what Britain would be like without its present system of government. Without so-called parliamentary democracy (I say "so-called" because you could argue that it fails in some many ways to represent the interests of the British public). We've had the present system for a long time now; but feelings are running so high as news pours out day after day of greedy or just plain criminal activities by our MPS, it's not a huge leap to imagine not only the government falling, which wouldn't necessarily be a shame, but the whole system of government in this country.

And that would be a tragedy. Democracy may be imperfect; it may serve the interests of businessmen and psychosexually deranged powerbrokers; it may abandon those who need it most before they are out of the cradle. But so far it's the best system anybody has come up with--at least for the management of a nation as opposed to a village or a small community. Communism may have started with the best of intentions, but in every country that adopted it (or had it foisted upon them), we ultimately saw intellectuals jailed, homosexuals beaten up on the streets, art destroyed, religion suppressed, free expression stifled and the ordinary man and woman being force fed a diet of reprehensible lies and bullshit by a puppet media. (Remember that, I urge you, when you rent "The Motorcycle Diaries" and allow yourself to be sentimental about Che Guevara.)

Many of the current crop of British MPs have been revealed as so far removed from the people they supposedly represent, they can no longer recognise what is tasteful and proportionate in the practice of their jobs. It would seem there is a collective resentment in their ranks that they are not paid on a par with men and women in business. Which may be justified in an entirely abstract world, for the jobs they do are undoubtedly incredibly demanding and requiring of a commitment for which big bucks is the usual reward for men in suits (those who give of their mind and their muscle and their free hours but wear steel toe-capped boots and flourescent safety jackets are rewarded with a regular reminder that other people like them are unemployed). But the world of the MP is not an abstract one. A good many of them represent people who can't afford to put food on the table, if indeed they can afford a table. To those people an MP who retires claiming £18000 of public money to put up bookshelves is morally repugnant.

Some of the MPs featured in the Daily Telegraph's revelations have proven to be criminals. Plain and simple. Claiming interest on mortgage payments when the mortgage has been paid off is a crime; and "I forgot" would not wash in a court of law if somebody on a housing estate tried it. Those MPs, I say, should be arrested, tried, and if they are found to be guilty they should go to prison. If a double standard of that degree goes unchallenged by the law, the electorate's faith in parliament will never recover. As for the others, those who saw an expenses system ripe for the plucking and used it to take everything they could from the electorate, I think they should be made to stand for their seats again immediately and debate their actions openly with the voters in their constituencies. They wouldn't want to do that because they know, most of them, that they will lose their seats. But again that might be for the good of parliament and democracy, which needs a really powerful hose to wash it clean right now as far as the public are concerned. Are these men and women so selfishly motivated that they would prefer to save their own greedy behinds than rescue the image of a beleaguered parliament in a country where alienation from the political system was a disease even before the expenses scandal was broken by the Telegraph?

If we didn't have parliament and parliamentary democracy, I shudder to think of the depredations that would move in to fill the vacuum.

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