Our Sorry Democracy

<p>The election of Barack Obama has created hope that change can happen but unless that change is both cultural and structural then that hope may be dashed. What is needed more than anything is a reform of our democratic system where legislators are often the voting fodder of Governments or the spokesperson of the corporate elite.<br /><br />It is difficult to blame the MPs or Congressmen for this as they are victims of a political system that desperately needs modernising &ndash; in fact not just modernising but &ldquo;post modernising.&rdquo; <br /><br /><strong>A System In Need Of Reform</strong> <br />The British Party political system is dreadfully out of date. It reflects an age when Parties stood for defined positions and specific interests within society. It was the child of modernity &ndash; the industrial age, which triggered deep and well defined conflicts. Today we have moved into a post-industrial age but political parties still reflect the behavioural patterns of industrial modernity. They play the adversarial game of political contact exaggerating the most trivial difference into an illusion of grandeur. They grandstand their politics into what is often the theatre of the absurd &ndash; absurd because it is not grand, most of the grand ideas have gone between the parties, and absurd because the adversarial process does little to scrutinise an ever-centralising Executive increasingly concentrated in the Prime Minister&rsquo;s Office or the White House.</p>
<p class="MsoNormal"><strong>Decline of Parliament</strong></p>
<p class="MsoNormal">Political Parties are no longer the Parliamentary expression of an extra parliamentary movement or the democratic means of decision-making: they are rather the institutional means for a centralised Executive gaining acquiescence for decisions increasingly taken outside a deliberative framework. Consequently MPs are subjected to a variety of means to enforce obedience from the sanction of the whips, the threat of de selection, the withholding of privileges and the destruction of career prospects. And what checks and balances ever existed to that process is fast disappearing. Once the aristocracy provided a check on the prerogatives of an absolute monarch. Over the last Century and a half the House of Lords, local government, the press (acting as the Fourth Estate) and extra parliamentary constituency parties have all provided checks on concentrated power. These have all gradually been eroded as the Executive has replaced accountable and democratic processes with managerial ones. Opinion polls, focus groups, &ldquo;big conversations&rdquo; and spin have replaced discussion, debate and involvement.<br /><br /><strong>The Impotence of Parliament</strong> <br />Parliament itself is also no longer an adequate check. If only MPs could have a stronger and more independent scrutiny role then checks on an all-powerful Executive could be effective; but they do not. Parliamentary Select Committees although powerful are never the less no where near as potent as Congressional Committees in the USA and MPs concerned with promotion to Government positions are hardly going to act too independently of the hand that feeds and promotes them &ndash; the 10 Downing Street machine.</p>
<p class="MsoNormal">We need reform that respects public debate and re invents new forms of accountability between the elected and the voters. Unless that happens then all hope in the future will gradually grow thin.</p>