Sunday, 17 July 2016

Why Democracy, Reason and Tolerance will always win

There are times when it feels like the tide of history is turning against decency, rational behaviour and democracy. If we started to compile a list of terrorist atrocities, awful regimes and monsterous politicians on the world stage, it would be simple enough to conclude that those of us who believe in peace, justice and democracy are losing the war. But when you look a little deeper, then the opposite is true. The biggest mistake we could possibly make is to not balance the horrors we see against the positive developments in our society and in the world.

We've just seen a failed military coup in Turkey. Such things are never good news,  with over 200 people killed. The flip side of this is that this attempt failed. However flawed the Erdogan govt is, it was democratically elected and the ballot box is the way we remove governments on democracies. Democracy has prevailed. 

One may conclude that following the latest terrorist outrage in Lyon that our way of life is in mortal danger. Again, it is easy to be blinded by the horror of such atrocities. But look at the facts. There are millions of Muslims living in France who don't drive trucks through crowded plazas. These millions live in the west for one reason. They don't want to live in a backward, intolerant society. In London our Mayor happens to be a Muslim. To me, he is the greatest threat of all to the Jihadi mentality. Every time he stands and speaks in measured tones, reaches out to the margins of society, he bangs another nail into the coffin of fundamentalism. For the Jihadi mentality to thrive, they need to see Western ideology as one of suppression of Muslim people and heritage. A Muslim Mayor sends out a message that it is impossible for them to ignore. Londoners elected Sadiq Khan because he was the best candidate. Those of us who are not Muslims, yet voted for Khan, didn't care what his beliefs were. I've been highly impressed with the way he's gone about his business. His first major act in office was to attend a holocaust memorial. This tells me that the Muslim politician with the biggest popular mandate in Western Europe stands for the same things which reflect the values of society as a whole. It also sends a strong message that for the huge majority of all colours and creeds there is more to unite us than divide us. Why on Earth should we give a psychopathic terrorist assume the mantle of representing Islam in the West, when we have a London Mayor with a huge mandate from the electorate? Khan, as He loves to tell all and sundry, is a bus drivers son made good. There are many positive things he can bring to the table for all of us. Only an ignorant fool would think that the Lyon psycho represented the thoughts of the majority of Muslims in the West and that Khan doesn't.

Many despots through history have felt democracies to be decadent and weak. Hitler made that mistake.  His misjudgement destroyed Germany and his ideology became a byword for evil. Democracy works because, however flawed its mechanisms, the public have a stake in saying how the country is governed. In the Euro debate, I am a staunch remain supporter. Our side lost. Unlike many of the people I agree with, I have moved on. It is not good enough to simply say 'the majority are wrong'. We need to look at ourselves, the EU and the Remain campaign and say 'why did the majority reject our message'? Given that if only 2% of people voting had voted the other way, Remain would have prevailed, the leave campaign should also recognise that their mandate was pretty small. For me, when a referendum produces a narrow result, there are two things intelligent people should do. The losers should look at why they lost and the winners should recognise that there is a small margin. For me, this means that leave should progress cautiously and in a sensible manner. 

There are two major issues for the UK to address, the first is how we frame a new relationship with Europe and the second is how we build new trading relations with the rest of the world. My view is that when we have a clear idea of how these may look, a vote on them would be appropriate, especially given the narrow margin. I would also suggest that the EU really needs to look at itself. The years of financial mismanagement. The lack of democratic structures. The distance between the people and the elites. To my mind, Cameron's great mistake was to fail to address these issues before a vote. His 'dodgy deal' fooled no one. But in some ways, anyone who believes in democracy should see this as a positive. There is nothing better than the public teaching politicians a lesson. Many on the left remember the moment in 1997 when Michael Portillo lost his seat. What few of us would have predicted was that this seemed to have a very positive effect on Portillo the person. These days, he is political pundit on This Week. He also appears on travel documentaries. These days he seems rather like a decent bloke. Such lessons do us all a little good. 

In the UK this week, unlike in Turkey, we've had an orderly change of government. We have a new Prime Minister and a new cabinet. People who only six weeks ago looked almost invincible are now looking for a new job. All of this happened, unlike Turkey, without bullets. Although some of us have noted the lack of democracy in the process, I am sure we all are happy that the UK does not need the army to effect change.

We have the rule of law and justice. Sometimes we find this difficult but it is better than the alternative. I am sure few would shed tears if we had Capital Punishment when sadistic paedophiles and terrorists would be strung up, but as a civilised society we are actually stronger, because we don't create martyrs and  that allows us to see these monstrous people for what they really are. I was once asked if I'd have allowed Hitler to live, if he'd survived and I was the judge at Nuremberg. I've thought long and hard about this and concluded that the sad, pathetic fate of Rudolf Hess, seeing a strong, successful West Germany rise from the ashes, whilst he became a sad, shrivelled relic, was a fate that would have been most suitable for Hitler. I for one would rather take the moral high ground, than sink to the level of murderous Nazi thugs in the sewer of history.

The truth is that across the globe, the happiest societies are free and democratic. They are also the most successful. Those are the real lessons. Democracy, tolerance and justice can at times be difficult for us, when we lose elections, listen to idiots and see despicable people walk free. Ultimately though, it is by far the best of all alternatives.

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