Is our democracy, (government of the people, for the people, by the people), broken, shambolic and getting worse? Are we witnessing systemic failure led by career politicians that is undermining democracy and the competence of government?
Evidence is accumulating that all is not well in the functioning of democracy and government. We see, for example, alone or in combination, repetitious sound bites, spin and creative statistics replacing genuine performance; careful scrutiny and refinement of legislation not being carried out; costly flawed ‘vanity projects’ being pursued; policy and deal making in private by cliques or bureaucrats; ramrodding of legislation not in party manifestoes; use of language to paraphrase George Orwell to deceive, conceal the true horror and give solidity to pure wind; acts of vandalism against existing worthy social values and established functioning institutions; disengagement of politicians from the electorate and the public from politics. There is also confusion about the order of precedence of duty and loyalty for politicians; personal power, political party, Parliament, principles or the people.
Pity your children who have no say yet will have to live with the major irreversible consequences of today’s policies, for example, outstanding high government debts and liabilities, open door immigration, inadequate pension provisions, costly PPPs and PFIs, closer EU political and economic union, EU legislation, uncompetitive education skills, wind turbine infested countryside etc.
Is what we are witnessing something new or just a continuation of past muddling through with more exposure? Although fictional, there was some factual basis for Gilbert and Sullivan noting in the nineteenth century, (HMS Pinafore), ‘I always voted at my party’s call and never thought of thinking for myself at all’. And Charles Dickens wrote (in Little Dorritt) ‘Whatever was required to be done, the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departments in the art of perceiving—HOW NOT TO DO IT’. Today, though, politics seems to have become much more of a game divorced from reality played between different almost interchangeable teams and we are just spectators, to be noticed and manipulated once every five years? So what can be done?
As a nation with a tradition of inventing competitive team sports we know that each side needs to play up and play the game to suitable ground rules. Yet for the greatest and most serious ‘game’ of all, our democracy these rules (or guidance) are inexplicably missing. Perhaps they are hidden in our nation’s unwritten constitution or our traditions? Sadly, many other countries without our long traditions of freedom, rule of law and fair play have a somewhat looser interpretation of democracy.
We need some common rules, values or guidance which are generally in alignment with democratic principles and good governance, are accepted by everyone and can be used to monitor performance against. Some piecemeal guidance and oversight already exists, for example, Nolan’s Seven Principles of Public Life, the National Audit Office, Office of Budget Responsibility, judicial review and enquiries, various Parliamentary committees and procedures. However, these don’t appear to be working very well; where is the equivalent of a referee or umpire to ensure fair play at the time and clear overriding principles?
Is it time to consider us, the people, being able to periodically directly elect impartial, incorruptible, competent ‘guardians of democracy’ (please excuse the acronym) to protect our democracy from the politicians, promote its advancement and comment on good governance? Also, is it time for us to establish some high level principles to reaffirm ‘the building blocks’ of democracy in the light of current knowledge and invention?
I am not suggesting how this can be achieved, rather making the case for something to be done to prevent the slippery slope we are on continuing downwards. In the absence of doing anything it is hard to see how the existing political parties and politicians having up to now been part of the problem, in future being part of the solution.