The Democracy Myth

As well as the need to eradicate Weapons of Mass Destruction, one of the key selling point of the West’s illegal interventions in the Middle East, was to export democracy and freedom.

Amidst the chaos and the war crimes, the irony is not lost on me that the West does not have a democracy to export in the first place.

The attempt to justify our imperialism abroad is based around the desire to give these people something we don’t even currently have ourselves.

Of course when George W Bush, Tony Blair, Barrack Obama, or David Cameron talk about democracy, they do not mean it. The democracy that we are told that we live in is nothing but a myth.

Democracy – from the Greek “Demos” (people) and “Kratos” (power or rule) – is a “system of government in which all the people of a state or polity… are involved in making decisions about its affairs”, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary.

Yet the “democracy” promoted by the ruling figures in the West is far more accurately defined through a combination of the following:

Kleptocracy – a term applied to a government seen as having a particularly severe and systematic problem with officials or a ruling class taking advantage of corruption to extend their personal wealth and political power.
Corporatocracy – is a term used to refer to an economic and political system controlled by corporations and/or corporate interests.
Plutocracy – is a society ruled or controlled by the small minority of wealthy citizens.
Oligarchy – is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people. These people might be distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, education, corporate, religious, or military control.

All of which is saturated and infused by the blind loyalty to neoliberalism and capitalism.

Democracy, in both the US and the UK, does not exist at present, nor has it ever existed in the past I imagine. It is still an aspiration and a desire for those of us who wish to see peace, equality, and justice in society, and indeed the world.

In order for the UK to become a democracy, a number of quite radical steps must be taken. If the following obstacles to democracy are not removed, then there can be no justification for using the term democracy, and instead we should be honest about the society that we live in and give it a title appropriate of that.

Monarchy
A democracy is impossible whilst there is still the existence of a monarchy and a Royal family. These unelected heads of state are not accountable to the people; they acquire their position through inheritance and not merit; drain money from the public; and paradoxically hold very little power whilst at the same time having the final say on laws, the ability to take land, and the power to declare war. As long as there is a monarchy, there can be no democracy. They must be abolished.

House of Lords
As with the monarchy, the existence of unselected officials who are not accountable to the public defies everything that democracy stands for. Regardless of their duties or their achievements, they should not exist within a democratic society. Both the existence of a House of Lords, and the existence of a monarchy, fulfil the necessary criteria for a society to be considered as an oligarchy.

First Past The Post
This electoral system is outdated and entirely inadequate. If we are to live in a society where representative democracy is practiced – where the public vote for representatives – the system needs to change. It is impossible for the people to express their wishes and get what they ask when the system itself is designed in such a way to prevent just that.

In the 2015 General Election, the Green Party received over one million votes and 3.8% of the total. However, because of the First Past The Post (FPTP) system, they only received 0.2% of the MPs, securing just one set. The Liberal Democrats received almost two-and-a-half million votes and 7.9% of the total. However, because of the FPTP system, they only received 1.2% of the MPs, securing eight seats. UKIP fared even worse under this archaic system, receiving almost four million votes and 12.7% of the total.However, because of FPTP, they only received 0.2% of the MPs, securing just one seat.

Unaccountability
If the UK wishes to practice representative democracy – as opposed to say direct democracy – then those elected into office must be held to account by the people that put them there. An amendment of the narrow Recall of MPs Act 2015 would broaden the conditions under which an MP could be recalled, and would allow the public to remove any representative at any time if they were not following the instructions of the people or failed to deliver on promises which got them elected. At present a politician can promise anything they wish (free university or declare that certain benefits will not be cut) before being elected into office and failing to deliver on the promises, or worse, completely going against them. Currently, when that occurs, the public have no method of withdrawing their support and removing their representative.

Lobbying
Money is a corrupting influence wherever you go. In order for democracy to exist, where decisions are made for the benefit of the people rather than profit, money has to be removed from the political process. In the West we call it lobbying, but in other parts of the world, it is correctly identified as corruption. When politicians are having their campaigns funded by businesses, and are the meeting with these businesses more often than with the people who elected them, democracy has been bought. It is then of no surprise to see politicians enact laws and policies that favour the businesses rather than the public.

Centralisation
At present, decisions which will impact on millions of lives across the UK, are taken in the city of London. That city, the institutions present, and the actors within them hold too much power. A process of decentralisation needs to occur so that local people are able to handle local and regional affairs. Decisions relating to council tax, windfarms, fracking, and housing development, to name but a few, are better taken by those they are immediately going to affect.

Media Monopolies
Writing for LSE in 2010, Steven Barnett says: “it is almost universally accepted within advanced industrial democracies that concentration of media ownership within too few hands contradicts the basic tenets of democracy, threatening diversity of expression and risking autocratic control of communicative spaces.” If people are only able to turn to a limited number of voices and narratives, inevitably, debate is restricted to the narrow confines of those with the power to decide. Some 70% of the UK national newspaper network are controlled by just three companies. Perhaps this dominance is even higher now that the Independent is no longer in print. The heads of these companies hold immense power when it comes to influencing public opinion. In order for democracy to flourish, media monopolies need to be dismantled.

As well as the seven issues mentioned above, there exists numerous other obstacles that prevent us from truly living and benefiting from a democracy. Religion, the European Union, the role of party whips, attitudes towards and the practice of elections, referendums, employment, the age of voting, and many more.

I have focused on the seven that I have because I believe these demonstrate the largest obstacles and most pressing concerns. What is perhaps most worrying is that I see no progress being made on any of these issues currently. This means that unless something drastic were to occur, we will continue to live the democracy myth for the foreseeable future.

Recommended Further Reading:
“On Saturday, Democratic Audit published a major three-year study into the state of democracy in the UK. Funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust,  the project draws on a wide body of research findings to assess whether the British political system has become more, or less, democratic since we completed our full audit a decade ago. Based on this evidence, we suggest that the UK’s constitution is increasingly unstable, public faith in its democratic institutions is decaying, political inequality is widening, and political power is shifting further towards corporate interests and wealthy individuals.”
Read more on the New Statesman

“The United Kingdom is a democracy, but nonetheless has an unelected and hereditary Head of State in Queen Elizabeth II. Eventually, she will give way to her son, Prince Charles. Richard Ridyard argues that this state of affairs cannot be justified, and that the continuing presence of a monarch – particularly an influential one – is incompatible with democratic maturity.”
Read more on Democratic Audit

“McChesney (2000: 2) takes the argument further by stating that the media have become a significant anti-democratic force in the US (and beyond) by stifling civic and political involvement, and that ‘[t]he wealthier and more powerful the corporate media giants have become, the poorer the prospects for participatory democracy’.”
Read more on LSE

“Opaque lobbying practices backed up by extensive funds at the disposal of interest groups can lead to undue, unfair influence in policies – creating risks for political corruption and undermining public trust in decision-making institutions… Money should not to be a distorting factor in forming policy or gaining access to decision makers.”
Read more on Transparency International

“The lack of individual accountability allows MPs who are failing their constituents to escape the judgement of the electorate… Full recall is a recall mechanism which gives voters themselves the choice of when to recall and for what reason.”
Read more on Unlock Democracy

“As the French sociologist Roland Barthes put it, myths are often created by the powerful to serve their own interests, almost always at the expense of the weak.”
Read more on Carnegie Council

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