Friday 14 December 2018

Democracy has failed in the UK

Economic planning in the United Kingdom
What will be the lasting legacy of David Cameron? I guess he was rather hoping that he'll be remembered as the guy who saved the UK economy from disaster following the credit crash. Sadly, following the end of the coalition in 2015 and the end of moderating influence of the Lib Dems on the Conservative party, we've come to see that Cameron just got very lucky and was able to have five years of grown up government where ideology and pet projects were largely kept where they belong, in the darker recesses of right wing think tanks and late night gentlemens bars in the backwoods of Westminster. I am not saying that the Coalition was marvellous or that there weren't rotten policies and harsh decisions that hurt vulnerable people, but the worst excesses were moderated and some genuinely progressive policies were passed. Raising the minimum wage to something almost liveable on, equal marriage and stopping the routine detention of children in immigration cases are three that come to mind.

Whatever you think of the coalition, the government represented a majority of the UK electorate. The victory of the Conservatives in 2015 meant that once again the UK was governed by a party only representing a minority viewpoint. In 2016 we had the EU referendum. From my perspective, this was a calamitous process. Whilst I do not agree with the result, that's democracy and so you have to abide by it. The problem was that the whole campaign, by both sides, was based on the biggest load of lies, scare stories and misinformation. By putting someone as slippery as George Osborne in charge of the campaign to remain, the real issues that we are now facing were never discussed. Instead we had stories of recession and slump, with threats of emergency budgets the day after. There was no mention of the political chaos, Northern Ireland, the divorce bill, backstop arrangements and permanent subjugation to ensure free flow of trade, with no say at all. As for the leave side, we had the promise of £350 million a week for the NHS, an end to the laws of Brussels (which will all be written into UK law the day we leave), an economic boom based on Free Trade (that won't happen due to our need to keep markets open with the EU). How on earth can you respect a decision when no one who voted was told the truth and no one knew what the real effect of what they were  when they voted. Whatever you may think of the vote, there is no question that it was the most dishonest vote ever.

As to the May government. Last year she held an election to get a democratic mandate for her EU exit policy. She stood on a platform of being strong and stable. She failed miserably. Wheras Cameron at least had the decency to form a coalition with a party that had mass support across the UK and presented a program both parties broadly agreed with and had a mandate from the electorate, May did a deal with the DUP, which is probably the party that least represents mainstream views in the UK. The two parties, unlike the coalition, do not represent a majority of voters. Inevitably if you have a coalition with such a party, things will go wrong. There may be periods where this doesn't matter, but with the biggest challenge in modern history facing us, do we really want a government marching to the tune of a bunch of secretarian homophobic bigots.

Theresa May has negotiated a deal that no one, not remain or leave want. The only people who will benefit are big business interests, who have a degree of protection for their products and trade. The voters, whether the 52% who voted leave or the 48 % who voted remain have been completely sold down the river.

This is bad enough, but lets forget Brexit for a minute. What about the other things. Normally governments don't spend every waking minute discussing Brexit. Normally, they have a program to manage the economy. Perhaps the biggest issue we face is that we've had no government for two years. What does this mean in real terms? What is happening in the real world? The answer is there to behold. Crossrail was meant to open next week. No one has a clue when this will now happen, the government has just announced a massive bailout. Chris Grayling, the transport secretary is nowhere to be seen, a minister with the mantra "Not my job, guv'nor". Heaven only know what will happen with HS2 with him in charge.

Another massive issue is policing. Yesterday, the government had to agree an emergency funding package as police budgets have been stretched beyond breaking point. Again there is no policy, just chaos. There's not much people really expect the government of the UK to do properly, but policing is one thing that traditionally we are proud of. Sadly, the police are simply being starved of funds and you don't need to be a genius to figure out what happens when you don't fund policing properly. Did you vote for decimation of the police? I certainly didn't and I don't know anyone Tory, Labour, Lib Dem, UKIP or Monster Raving Looney who did.

Then there is education. Our school budgets are in crisis, especially in London. Schools simply don't have the cash to provide the education our children deserve. Excuse me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe that any nation that seriously wants to succeed can do so without providing an education for the next generation.

What about industrial policy? We don't have one. Whilst China produces ever more of the products that we have in our home, Donald Trump enacts ever more policies to protect American industries, the UK is sailing listlessly towards the rocks. No company in the UK has a clue what our trading arrangements will be in six months. The government doesn't know what to do about it. They are just crossing their fingers and praying it will be OK.

Then there is the tricky issue that is racism. For decades, the UK has had strong policies, that have seen the UK become a country that doesn't tolerate racism. Sadly Brexit seems to have opened Pandora's box and racism seems to be on the rise. UKIP has embraced Tommy Robinson as an adviser. Chelsea fans this week have racially abused Raheem Sterling and shouted anti semitic chants at a Champions League game. Wheras normally this would warrant a comment from the Govt at the very least, sadly they are too busy navel gazing to care.

It isn't only at a national level. Council budgets have been slashed by central government and local services are collapsing. In Barnet, we have seen an example of this with the appalling failure to collect bins, the scrapping of the food collections, the neglect of parks, roads and the plague of graffiti across the Borough. The council hasn't got the cash to provide even the basics anymore. Of course Barnet Council have made matters worse by not raising council tax in line with inflation, but the huge cuts imposed by central government have made the situation impossible. The Conservatives identified that taxation was a vote winner, so have committed Hari Kiri on the finances to win elections. The response  in Barnet is mass outsourcing. This has removed democratic control from swathes of services, from Council housing to licensing. Planning is run by Capita, it is all falling apart before our eyes.

However you look at it, democracy has failed in the UK. Whatever you voted for, whatever you thought you'd get, be it #Brexit, sensible Conservative husbandry of the Police, regular bin collections in Barnet, a good education for your children, you have been failed. Our system of democracy simply isn't working. For someone who believes in Democracy, this is a galling truth. What is my remedy?

I don't have one. But I do have a way forward. We need a Royal Commission to be constituted to examine the way our nation works. This shouldn't be rushed, it should be thorough and look at issues such as whether PR would deliver a more representative government, whether we need a bill of rights and a written constitution, what role referendums have in our country and how we can ensure that local people are protected from the ravages of tinpot town hall regimes of all flavours, that blindly follow ill thought out, ideologically driven policies that have local residents as the last concern. Democracy is broken. If we don't take serious action to fix it, I dread to think where it will take us.

---- Don't forget to join us tonight for The Barnet Eye Xmas party and Community awards at Mill Hill Rugby Club on Fri 14th December at Mill Hill Rugby Club at 8pm. We really hope you can come down and say Hi. Admission is Free.

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