Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Democracy in Action - Britain and Greece

David Cameron has just finished his marathon 24-hour campaign-a-thon, and shows no signs of letting up yet. If sheer energy was the pre-requisite for government office, then all three of the main leaders should be in with a chance. However many people vote, or don't vote, tomorrow, at least we can't accuse any of the party leaders of taking the electorate for granted. You get the impression that if they could talk to every elector, then they'd have a good stab at doing so - Gordon Brown might, of course, need a few aides to guide him in the right direction, but that's life. All of which, of course, is great for democracy. That's what it's all about - politicians as supplicants, looking for support to rule over the next five years. Election time is when we hear clear policy messages, and weigh up the hard options on offer. Right?

Er, not quite. Election time is when the fragile electorate get to hear the message deemed palatable enough to give them by politicians in hoc to focus groups, polls and the like. And perhaps it's hardly surprising, as any politician foolish enough to tell us the truth and give us the genuine hard options would find themselves in the ex-politician class faster than Gordon Brown can fling abuse into a radio mike. The message we seem to really want, and are getting for the most part, is this - yes, we'll deal with the massive public spending deficit, and we'll do it without making any serious cuts in public spending, other than in the generic waste that is somehow always there. Are the politicians being cowardly, or are we the electorate being duplicitous? We say we want to hear hard truths, then we vote for the ones who give us saccharine.

While we're busy duping ourselves into believing the parties' more or less homogenous message that the economic solution doesn't have to hurt too much, the Greeks have been out on the streets striking, protesting, battling with police and generally causing mayhem. And no, they're not battling against some oppressive dictatorship that has forced them down the road to bankruptcy. They're battling against the latest elected government to fail to tell them the truth or take action against endemic corruption. And the reason why successive governments have failed to do this? Because they were fearful of the electorate that would keep them in opposition if they suggested reforming the system. Democracies are societies of vested interests, but those interests are not, in fact, the interests of the few, but are interests of the many, tied up in a complicated manner with different groups of the very electorate who vote for governments. Thus does democracy work - or, perhaps, doesn't. The Greek people are actually not protesting against the sheer miserable inadequacy of their governments; they are protesting against the possibility that years of happy over-run might now have to end. The very over-run which they've all been merrily voting for.

A teacher, Thrasyvo Paxinos, is quoted on the BBC website saying "I'm feeling more and more angry each day, because those who got us into this mess are not held responsible". Not entirely, Mr. Paxinos. Because you live in a democracy, and you too have had a responsibility not to be indulged by governments who have failed to confront you with the truth.

1 comment:

consultant said...

The people of England regards itself as free, but it is grossly mistaken; it is free only during the election of members of parliament. As soon as they are elected, slavery overtakes it, and it is nothing. The use it makes of the short moments of liberty it enjoys shows indeed that it deserves to lose them.

Rousseau