Britain is often lauded as the pioneer of parliamentary democracy, a country that was a bastion of freedom and stability in an otherwise chaotic and revolutionary Europe. This can perhaps go some way to explaining our regressive and arrogant take on the EU of late, but if there is any historical truth to it, it is quickly becoming only historical truth. My biggest fear is that in 200 years Britain will be seen as the first grave for democracy, lauded as the first country to do away with such inconveniences as equality and democracy.
In truth the threat to democracy is a global threat, but my experience is in Britain, and the government here seems to be particularly keen to curb our freedom and support the neo-liberal ideology that exacerbates the problems. Let’s examine a handful of recent Tory policies to illustrate my point:
- Cameron’s pet project of internet regulation. The entire notion of democracy thrives off free and easy dissemination of knowledge. Our biggest tool to that end lies with the internet and the Tory’s are trying to stop you using it freely. Not only is it completely repulsive from an ideological point of view, but it’s again oafishly being put into practice, with sexual health advice websites and homosexual content being blocked (or is this what Dave wants?)
- The Tory’s “Money for Access” system for party donations, found here: http://www.conservatives.com/Donate/Donor_Clubs.aspx. This is a blatant way of ensuring the rich have more access to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet than the poor ever will.
- The disturbingly vague “Anti-Social Bill” that, despite a battle with the Lords, has been eventually passed, amid huge fears that the powers to remove people “likely to cause annoyance” could be massively abused.
- The “Gagging Bill”, a bill that is supposed to clear up the lobbying process, yet what its main effect seems to be is to limit the voice of charities/ activist groups. This has conveniently come at a time when the government has come under huge criticism for many of its policies from mental health charities, various denominations of the Church, Oxfam, and the Trussel Trust, to name a few.
- Theresa Mays pledge to tear up the Human Rights Act– enough said.
- Cuts to our legal aid for civil cases, and the recent revelation that the government are considering charging people who challenge the verdict of their work capability assessments. These both lead to poor and vulnerable people not being able to have their voices heard, and for the law to begin to work better for the rich and privileged.
One thing the Tory’s love to do when bringing in such policies is to take a minor problem (such as not being able to deport a few criminals due to EU law) exacerbate it, and then use that as the justification for the new proposals that will actually be another link in your chains that are being fashioned for you at Westminster. When a policy is proposed by a government, it shouldn’t just be judged by what they’re claiming they want it to achieve, it should be judged by what any government at any time could use it to achieve. It is incredibly niave to assume the only repurcusions of Cameron’s internet filters will be to stop indecent images, or that the only effect of tearing up our Human Rights Act will be to deport a few dangerous radicals.
Ok, so we may not have lost all our freedoms in one go, compared to the victories of a democratically elected parliament and universal suffrage, these are pretty small league right? I’ll let Adolf answer that one:
“The best way to take control over a people and control them utterly is to take a little of their freedom at a time, to erode rights by a thousand tiny and almost imperceptible reductions. In this way, the people will not see those rights and freedoms being removed until past the point at which these changes cannot be reversed.” — Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
And ironically, the people that are being betrayed the most by these policies are actually the Tory voters themselves (or most of them anyway). A large amount of Tory voters are the supposed “liberals” that long for small government and freedom to act largely unimpeded by the state. Awkward. This isn’t a one- off for the Tory’s either- exactly the same thing happened with Thatcher as well. The idea that neo-liberalism always goes hand in hand with democracy simply isn’t true- the evidence stacks against that both in this country and abroad, with an appalling record found in Russia and large swathes of Latin America (google “Pinochet” if you don’t know what I’m talking about).
But the biggest nail in the coffin of democracy lies in the influence of powerful companies. This is not only through the aforementioned “Money for Access” scheme, but through fear of these corporations as well. These corporations have grown far too powerful, able to wield far too much influence and clout for any government to really dare stand up to them. Why do we as a nation hound and scapegoat benefit claimants as “scroungers” when the amount of benefits fraudulently claimed (1.6 billion- equalling 0.7% of all benefits paid out) is dwarfed by the amount uncollected in tax (35 billion). As I have oft repeated the fact is the real beneficiaries and “scroungers” of the British welfare system are poverty paying bosses. Why are we too scared to raise corporation tax or minimum wages? Because we’re told it will lead to companies running away from our little island and that will surely spell out impending doom for the economy (an argument that doesn’t seem to bother a lot of Tory’s when it comes to leaving the EU) or lead to job cuts to deal with the added cost to companies (or rather to maintain profits). Several points should be borne in mind when entertaining these ideas. Firstly, they’re already a lot of places in the world where labour is a lot cheaper than in Britain, so if companies really were going to leave here because of labour costs- they already would have. Secondly, we’ve seen record-high bankers bonuses and CEO income increases- if a company can afford to pay these guys so much, then surely it won’t be worried about paying its front line workers a little extra? (http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/tory-ideological-mission-rich-richer.html ) But what about the small business’? They can’t afford to pay more, surely? Well- they might be able to if they weren’t being constantly squeezed by big business, big business that isn’t paying its fair share, or large corporations that are running a constrictive oligopoly on our markets (just look at the energy and food markets) (more on the corporations to come).
In short, our hard won democratic freedoms are being slowly but surely eroded away by a regressive and elitist government, that are all too happy to be the lapdog of an unregulated financial sector and a too powerful collection of corporations. The idea that the rich are the wealth and job creators and so must be cozied up to is simply not true- consumer demand creates jobs and wealth, and so it should be the average Joe that gets the best deal, the average Joe that our policies are benefiting. It has been shown that poorer people spend a larger percentage of their income in the economy, and that increasing inequality is bad across all economic and social criteria (see: http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/about-inequality/effects ). So let’s stop being scared of the big corporations and big business, let’s not let fears of their repercussions influence our policies. Let’s carve back our democracy and some social equality, and start to stand against regressive Tory policies and stand for freedom. We’re at the start of a slippery slope so to some it might be a good view, we might feel free up here, but I promise you with this government at the helm it’s only downhill from here.