Sunday, 14 December 2014

Western Democracy: it would be a good idea

When asked what he thought of Western Civilisation, Gandhi replied “I think it would be a good idea.”

In the same spirit, it strikes me that introducing democracy in the West might well be a good idea. That reflection was prompted by a most revealing story in the British papers this morning.

The Tories have changed the rules on election spending, increasing the limits by 23%, against the recommendation of the Electoral Commission. Since they have raised £78 million over the last four years, far more than any other party – they have the backing of the wealthiest individuals, after all – this move clearly favours them against the opposition.

David Cameron:
sincerely sorry for taking such an underhand advantage
They pulled this off on the sly, using an arcane device known as a “statutory instrument”, which avoids parliamentary scrutiny, unless one of the other parties calls for it to be reviewed in the House. Sadly, Labour failed to spot it in time.

That is the first revealing aspect of the story. It has often driven me near to distraction that the Labour Party, at least under its present leadership – fine people, but it would appear horribly out of their depth – insist on playing as amateurs in a professional league. They are constantly outmanoeuvred. They failed to spot a change in campaign laws that would cause them serious harm? Are they really up to the game at this level?

Far more striking, however, is what it reveals about the Conservative Party itself. Clearly, it has absolutely no compunction about descending to the dirtiest of tricks – rather like the Republican Party, and in particular its Tea Party wing, in the States. It doesn’t even care that it will be caught, as it must have known would eventually happen. It doesn’t care because it knows that many will vote for it anyway, despite the dirty tricks – perhaps even because of them: this may be foul play, but it’s a professional foul, and people respond well to professionalism.

But the most telling titbit in the article concerned one detail of the huge financial donations the Tory Party has received.

The Conservative Party has taken a little over £21 million in contributions from Hedge Funds. Last year’s budget removed a tax, stamp duty, from Hedge Fund transactions, worth £145 million to them.

So the cost of austerity borne by the (generally poorer) taxpayer went up by £145 million, and one-seventh of that sum went straight to the Party that made the (colossally wealthy) Hedge Funds that gift. Not a bad deal: the Funds kept six-sevenths of the windfall, and handed over one-seventh to their benefactors. Well, the agents of the benefactors: the ultimate benefactor is the population, while those who pretend to represent us handed over the largesse – and shared in the benefit.

George Osborne:
just as sorry to have given away our money and got a large chunk back
And theyve now made sure, by changing the law, that they can spend the money to try to cling on to power and keep doing that kind of high-minded deal. There are times when I look at the Tory Party, or the self-satisfied wealthy right in general, and feel them looking down on us from on high, as though proclaiming Look upon my works, ye lowly, and despair!

But we don’t despair. Because some day those chickens will come home to roost and we, the people, intent on forming a more perfect union, will break the power of money on our politics.

Then we might indeed find what a great idea Western democracy could be.

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