Thursday, 30 January 2014

The State is Slowly Destroying British Democracy

British democracy is becoming competitive

Britain is fast becoming a myriad of competing groups and factions. This is dangerous for democracy and reveals a foreboding vision of the future. In recent months there has been much talk of an economic recovery in the UK. Although an emergence out of the 2008 depression is most welcome. The experience of economic catastrophe has revealed a disturbing trend in modern British politics, that is slowly turning Britain into an arena for various warring factions used by politicians to divide society. Yet reducing the power of government to produce money, creating real rights for individuals and voting reform could remedy this worrying trend.

Of course it is true that politicians have to balance the demands of different sections in society. Yet it appears that of modern phenomena are beginning to intensify this trend. Traditionally the British voter is supposed to have a relatively easy choice come election time. In theory if you're poor, urban or northern you are supposed to vote Labour. Whereas if you're rich, rural or and southern you vote conservative. It is certainly true that psephology is far from an exact science. But aside from a few swing seats this trend has largely stood the test of time. This partly explains the current ideological mire that  plagues contemporary Britain. Yet new, factors are begging to intensify this pattern.

Firstly the rise of the internet has given a voice to millions of people that previously never had one. It is true that the rise of the internet itself does not change much without a significant mass of individuals being aware about a particular issues and possessing a framework of understanding about politics. But there is no doubting that more instant access to information certainly increases that sense of awareness. However it is fair to say that most people in modern Britain do not spend time publishing their political though online. Instead of a nation of dynamic and vocal bloggers, writers, tweeters etc. that would constitute a Socratic paradise. We have seen the rise of a sinister 'consensus culture'. This can be described as an obsession for politicians to appeal to all section of society mainly through various financial incentives. Essentially we are being bribed to vote a certain way. Arguably this really took of during the 1997 Labour campaign. A landslide victory for Labour that brought Tony Blair into Downing street.

This focus on consensus proved a relatively stable election strategy for Labour. Even after a deep depression, over ten years in power and the ascendancy of the highly unpopular Gordon Brown. Labour still gave the conservatives a run for their money in the 2010 election. In recent years David Cameron's premiership has seen similar focus on developing a consensus culture. With u-turns on almost every issue and a sharp divides over Europe, immigration and foreign policy that is slowly tearing his party apart. Blair's landslide victory in 1997 has given modern politicians the idea that with the right set of ideas, sound-bites and lots of funding you can win almost any voter. Yet this is starting to have some nasty consequences. Old ideas about social identity seem to be crumbling as attitudes surrounding identity have changed. Politicians often use catch all terms such as 'Alarm clock Britain', 'strives versus scroungers' or 'the squeezed middle'. As the UK abandons its attachment to class. New divisions are appearing. Young and old, private sector workers and public sector workers and NIMBYs versus those in favor of development to name a few. These differences existed previously, but are increasingly becoming bitter factions in the political bear pit.

On one hand some may welcome this change. Sure a government that is 'proactive' and 'listening to its people' can be construed as a positive change. However the more lasting legacy of the factionalism that is quickly becoming a feature of British society is that the state increasingly plays  groups off against each other. For example the current debate over immigration demonstrates how the political elite ( including the mainstream press among others) channel criticism away from the real issue at hand, in this case job security. And direct it towards migrants, a group that has little means of defending itself. A similar process has taken place with 'benefit cheats'. However both cases demonstrates how the primary responsibility of the state is to bestow or deny certain financial rewards on certain groups. This is sets a dangerous precedent for the future.

Yet there are certain steps that can be taken, albeit slowly to improve the situation. Firstly government should be reduced. The main reason that groups cry out for government support is because society has become essentially a subsidiary of the state. However 'rolling back the state' in the traditional financial sense will at first be insufficient and ultimately cruel on the poorest in society. By reducing state interference in a literal sense would mean enshrining in law principles that ultimately empower the individual. But this is unlikely for as history shows us, once the state has a taste for interfering in our lives, it becomes very hard for citizens to reclaim their rights. Secondly a proportional representation system of voting should be implemented to break up the monolithic political clans that dominate Westminster, thus bringing an end to forced consensus culture. Lastly an end to fiat currency would reduce the state's ability to print its own money. It is no coincidence that a state that has the ability to forge money out of thin air is rather generous with the handouts it gives to keep its population fighting among themselves. Yet these changes are long term and unfortunately highly unlikely, but as long people are kept fighting among themselves the more necessary these steps will become.  

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