It is usually easier to define what it is one is fighting against, which is why countries who have been historically on the losing side are better at defining some kind of national identity than those who have, on the whole, been on the winning side.
Being somewhat interested in films and propaganda, I find, as I have written on various occasions (too numerous to refer to) films of various countries in the Second World War very instructive. The most interesting, though not always completely successful British ones are those by Michael Powell and Emerich Pressburger (the latter being a Hungarian) because they attempt to create a positive image of the country, society and social ideals that Britain was actually fighting for. Often these ideals are old-fashioned and, at times, there is an ambiguity about their desirability though their attractiveness is never in question.
I shall leave the question of social ideals and national identity aside for the moment, though, as I pointed out in a previous posting, the only way we can fight the various battles we are facing is by recreating those identities.
Let me concentrate on the question of democracy, for it is the lack of it that we (or some of us) so dislike in the European Union and it is because the United States and other Anglospheric countries are democracies that we want to be allied with them. Similarly, our support for Israel in the Middle East rests on the main argument that it is the only democratic country in that region at the moment.
Only people completely ignorant of history, in particular of the history of the European Union from its beginnings (ably discussed by my colleague and Christopher Booker in “The Great Deception”) think that the EU is somehow a German plot to create a Fourth Reich. Au contraire. As I pointed out before, the EU and its ideology desperately needs a suppression of German national identity in order to succeed.
So, let us go back to basics, as a certain not very successful Prime Minister is supposed to have said once. If it is democracy we are fighting for, what do we mean by it?
Elections, free and fair and a government formed by the majority. Fine. But what is a free and fair election? The Soviet argument was that theirs was the only free and fair election because it represented the people’s wishes in the selection of the only candidate in each constituency.
We, of course, do not think that and believe that opposition parties should exist and independent candidates should stand as often as possible. Errm, do we? How often do we hear people harrumphing about silly single-issue candidates simply cluttering up the ballot papers. And if those single-issue groups and candidates grow into a force possibly to be reckoned with, as the Greens did temporarily some years ago, UKIP has done recently and the BNP is threatening to do, great is wailing and gnashing of teeth from the main-stream parties.
So, maybe, we should do without parties. Just have candidates we vote for. In a way, that is the system they have had in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union and it prevents that country from developing into a mature democracy. The politics of Russia reminds one of eighteenth century political intrigues across the continent of Europe, in Britain, but above all ….. in Russia. The great leaders rise and fall, at the whim of the top man (some were women in Russia) and with them rise and fall all their followers.
One of these great men has been Anatoly Chubais, who has had many falls and many rises. (At the moment he is up, being the Chairman of the Board of the Unified Energy System of Russia and in charge of its forthcoming privatization.) After one of his falls from grace under Yeltsin he spent various of his followers to the West to drum up support. I asked the one who had been detailed to come to Britain whether there was any sign of Russian politics developing political parties, based on certain political ideas or ideologies to replace the personalized struggle. After much humming and haing, he admitted that there was not sign of that.
Years have gone by and Yeltsin is out of the limelight. But the basic problem has not been solved. Russian politics still revolves round personalities not political parties. It has since then become far less of a democracy by any standard.
Clearly, then, dispensing with parties is not really the solution and, some might argue, that the existence of parties as well as the constant formation of new ones that might or might not develop are prerequisites of a democratic system.
Some might but the leaders of the existing political parties do not. Using the pretence of fighting corruption they (Labour, Conservative and Lib-Dim) want to introduce a system of state financing for existing parties, thus ensuring that they are part of the machinery of government rather than expression of political views and opinions. Once a party is subsidized by the state, it cannot be said to be an opposition. A move of that kind would also make it impossible for new parties to emerge and grow. Would we have had a Labour Party if there had been state funding of parties in the early twentieth century?
(If we want to talk about corruption, what about the following. How do we feel about the wife of the Prime Minister setting up Chambers with a colleague who subsequently becomes the Director of Public Prosecution and gets into some trouble over surreptitious wining and dining a young and blonde colleague, in the full expectation that said PM will push through a contentious piece of legislation, to wit, the Human Rights Act?)
Well, we are getting somewhere. We need elections with a multitude of candidates and we need parties though we do not need them to be funded by the state.
What else? A free and unfettered media, probably, but here we run into another difficulty. The point of that free and unfettered media is the provision of information. What happens when out of laziness it does not bother to provide information that is hard to get or hard to analyze? What happens, furthermore, when the media has an agenda of its own?
It is only with the appearance of the blogs that it became possible to challenge a certain world view that the MSM in this country and in the United States, Australia and Western Europe assiduously propagated. What would have been the outcome of the Vietnam war and the subsequent surge of Communism throughout the world if there had been blogs in the sixties and seventies who could challenge the less than truthful or accurate “reporting” by the MSM of those years?
Let us go further then: we need a free and unfettered media but we also need a way of challenging that media, an ability to recognize that it has an agenda of its own, which may not be helpful to the country that hosts it.
Here is where we run into real difficulties. Free and fair elections, political parties, freedom of the media but also freedom of conscience and opinion (within reason, I am afraid, because even libertarians believe that other people exist and need to be taken into account). But what happens if the parties do not differ all that much from each other, do not provide any real choice at election and do not respond to the popular will between elections?
Well, no, let us go back a little. How is that popular will to be measured? I keep hearing about petitions and the disgraceful way the government ignores them and about the way Tony Blair ignored the million or so (at least half of whom were not British) demonstrators against the Iraqi war but find it hard to understand why I should get indignant.
A democratically elected Prime Minister is the person, according to the present constitutional set-up, who decides whether this country goes to war. There is a good deal to be said for changing that arrangement and ensuring that Parliament has more of a say, though Blair did actually have a debate on the Iraqi war. But what one cannot have is the notion that the foreign policy must be decided according to what the people who happen to turn out on a day to march through London want.
As I said before, the war may not have been in their name, but they were not marching in my name.
Similarly, and irrelevantly to the subject of the petition, it is hard to see why government policy should be decided according to what a large number of signatories, some of whom openly admit to signing as many times as they can, want. The problem with the road charging (yes, that is the one I am talking about) is not that the government was not paying any attention to a petition, which was still signed by fewer people than those who had voted for them, but because the Minister in question was lying in a way that is destructive of a democratic order.
As it happens, I do not believe that there is anything new about politicians lying. They have done so ever since there were politicians, going on for several millennia. One reason for that is that most people could not cope with the truth if anyone told them.
One of the truths the population of this country cannot cope with for any length of time is that eighty per cent of our legislation comes from the European Union and our elected representatives have no right to oppose it. The reason why so many of us go into denial over this is because it undermines the concept of Britain’s democracy and, above all, her independence.
NATO does not legislate in this country; the WTO draws up trading rules but does not insist on domestic legislation; the European Union is the primary source of most of our laws and regulations. That is not a happy thought and most people prefer to ignore it.
That is, at least, one reason for Douglas Alexander’s barefaced lie about road pricing. He said that there was a need for a debate and there is. But there is hardly any point in having a debate if the issue has already been decided. That kind of a debate one could have in the Soviet Union.
The truth is that what we are fighting for is not so much democracy, though that is part of it, but constitutional liberty. Individual freedom to life, liberty and justly acquired property that is protected under clear constitutional rules; the right to express one’s opinion but, also, the right to disagree, even if the expressed opinion is part of a consensus; the right to religious observance but not to repression of other people and criminal behaviour (threats of violence, honour killings, genital mutilation, kidnapping and forced marriage etc) supposedly in the name of a religion; government decided on by the majority with legitimate minority rights protected; and, above all, legislators and regulators who are accountable for their decisions.
As the Meryl Streep character says in "The Devil Wears Prada", am I reaching for the moon?