Wednesday, 30 June 2010
Democracy in Action
Over on my main blog I posted a picture of the self-styled “Democracy Village” (like this) and said that I was please that our elected officials were taking it away. A frequent habitué of London Daily Photo, Imajoebob, took the time to leave a long comment, the rest of this post is my response, which visitors here may not be interested in so…
Here’s my post:
Those who have occupied Parliament Square call it "Democracy Village" but that could not be further from the truth. This motley collection of tents and misfits has been on the square since the beginning of May, something that could only happen in a democracy, but democracy is working through the ballot box and accepting the result, like it or not. Direct action is as far from democracy as are the fascist structures these people claim to despise. I say this although I, too, have been steadfastly anti war; they are such a messy bunch. Thankfully, it looks like they will soon be out, courtesy of our elected Mayor. Now that's democracy. I don't mind Brian Haw, he is a great British Eccentric, but I don't want one of our more pleasant London spaces turned into a campsite.
And the comment:
Wow, what a disappointment Ham. Because a group of people appear "motley" they should be removed from such a public spot? And "democracy" is when a person in authority removes unpopular people from public places? Because their simple presence makes your life a little less "pleasant?" Perhaps Boris can start arresting the homeless every night because they make the stroll down The Strand so depressing? And all those giant protests that are a trademark of so many (hundreds of thousands) of "eccentrics" can be eradicated. It makes it so difficult for you to whiz through town on your bike when all those people take up the public roadways just to try and get their MPs to listen to their views. There must be better ways for them to do this without causing you such inconvenience!
I'm sorry Ham, I usually find you right-minded about most things - even when I may disagree with you. But you really missed the mark with this one. These protesters have been there in some fashion since 2001, when Mr Haw recognised Blair for the Lap Dog he became, and as the religious apocalyptic he tried to keep hidden. If it weren't for these people I doubt most days you'd think even once, never mind twice about the soldiers still in Iraq. That's not meant to reflect on you, just on current reality. How much of the news is dedicated to covering this, except for days when someone dies or is wounded?
This "messy bunch" is not only a protest against government policy, it is also a testament to British democracy. Parliament Square is surrounded by monuments to great statesmen, each of whom was willing to do the extraordinary to make the world better. I believe Churchill, Lincoln, and Mandela would rather suffer the unkempt tents than a daily onslaught of picnickers, Frisbees, and tour buses.
Finally, I am compelled to point out that public speech is not the same as direct action (just see the G20 summit for examples of direct action). It IS however, the most fundamental part of democracy after voting. And I'm quite pained to have to tell you that removing these protesters because you either don't like what they say, how they appear, or because it inconveniences you is a fundamental exercise in... fascism. As is passing laws aimed at specific individuals to try and silence their ability to speak; i.e the 'Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005" which was enacted by Parliament solely to persecute (and prosecute) Mr Haw. As was his "coincidental" arrest on the morning just before the Opening of Parliament last month.
Far from a "motley, messy eccentric," Mr Haw has been recognised by your countrymen as a dedicated and brave man, and the Most Inspiring Political Figure in 2007.
I think the issues raised here go to the heart of our society and point up a malaise that runs through and through. Imajoebob, I think that in objective and sentiment we are probably not far apart, if at all, but I think you are entirely wrong in your conclusions.
So, what’s so important? Democracy. Most people understand it in terms of Abraham Lincoln’s phrase “government of the people, by the people, for the people” and think no more about it. The truth is mind-achingly different. The Wikipedia article starts with the words “Democracy is pretty much dead” and goes on to justify the statement with detailed explanation. Frankly, the complexity of the political spectrum is far too much for most people, who are only interested in the simplistic version meted out by the media which can be summarised as “Democracy (us), Good. Everything else, Bad (them)”. However, our parliamentary democracies are what makes our lives comfortable and ensure our freedom.
In our Parliamentary Democracy the prime responsibility of the Government is to secure the safety of our country and the freedom of the individual. Soundbite style, it is “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, a less succinct version is the European Declaration of Human Rights, running to 28,000 words. If the mood takes you, you can read it here , if you can stay awake that is. For all its wordage, don’t underestimate its significance.
The focus of the protests that we see are all around the wars we are engaged in, mostly but not entirely centered in the Gulf. And, underscoring each and everyone, is the fight for oil. Let’s look at the wars first, leaving aside the post-communism skirmishes in Europe that come under the banner of “Peacekeeping” (and acknowledging that sweeps a lot of smelly stuff under a carpet).
Thirty years ago, there was the Iran-Iraq war. Iraq were our friends then as it seemed they were the least likely to threaten our continued supply of oil. That was a real messy one, but apart from small US involvement against Iran, we “let” them blow up and gas each other. Thirty years ago is buried in history, nobody much thinks about that now but I bet it is still in the psyche of those who lived though it. Then there was our best friends Kuwait and that nasty nasty man Sadam Hussein. Yes the same one we had helped a few years back, I doubt that anyone anywhere thinks that wasn’t about oil. Then there was the shock of 9th September 2001, followed by Afghanistan invasion. Possibly because we had to kick ass, possibly because of the mineral deposits, who knows. Then there was Iraq, and still is. More oil? This is getting a bit broad in its scope, so let’s bring it back.
All those invasions, all those wars, all those interferences were engaged in by our democratic governments with the intention that it would serve their party and their country the best outcome. However misguided the decisions (and I was among those who felt Iraq was misguided from the start) I am utterly convinced that the decision makers believed that they were taking the best path of action, including in that misleading the public (if that is what they did, although with hindsight it may be hard to see it any other way).
So, what were they hoping for? Glory, is one thing. Security of oil supplies is another. We are an oil based economy, and life without it (or with the price doubled) is barely imaginable. The direct impact to any government that presided over a shortage would be immediate and devastating. We had a taste of that in the UK with the self induced shortage caused by panic buying of fuel with tanker driver strikes in 2005; the real thing would have been so much worse. If an administration has to choose between a few (thousand) soldiers dying half way around the world or a fuel shortage, their course of action is easily decided.
But it is us who make that decision for them, we who need our consumer goods, our cars, our facilities, heating, lighting, water. Nobody is exempt. So I cycle a lot, big deal. I still like and enjoy the benefits of a consumer society, it is entirely impractical for me to opt out even if I wanted to. The upshot of that is that like it or not those who are protesting against the war are virtually as responsible as those who declared it.
We are all part of the same society, and that confers the rights and responsibilities. We cannot abrogate ourselves from it, we cannot distance ourselves from it, we are part of it. We get the government we deserve. The only options if you do not wish to be part of a society are pretty much move or start a revolution.
Freedom of expression is a basic tenet of our society, our last Government was shockingly restrictive and prescriptive, increasing police powers and encroaching on personal freedom in so many ways. It’s very good to see them gone for that reason alone, and I suspect that the Con-Dem coalition is likely to float back towards the previous state of affairs. SOCPA and its associated veneration of Parliament is a terrifying piece of legislation, I wonder if it will get reprieved.
So those anti-war protestors who see themselves as apart from the society that went to war - but I argue are as much a part of it - should have the right to protest and make their voice heard, and they have done. And after that? They’re just a mess now.
Why should their minority view (that they want to camp in Parliament Square, nothing to do with the war) take precedence over the majority who would like them gone? Not only that, but Boris is the democratically elected Mayor. We have asked him to act for us, and so even if I did not agree with his decision I have to go along with his decision. There is a whole other rant on the subject of the tyranny of minority view that I won’t go into here although it is extremely relevant as I’m running much longer than I wanted to.
It’s not fascism to expect and require certain standards of behaviour and we have a tradition and history of tolerance in this country. Brian Haw if nothing else is a monument to the ineptitude of the previous administration and should be allowed to remain if he so wishes, but the rest of them? Sorry. And to describe what they are doing as democratic is to stretch the term to breaking point. They don’t like democracy, or our flavour of it, and its consequences. Fine, protest, make your point, eight weeks should be enough. Now go.