From change to divergence and discernment
Change is the priority
Recently I listened to Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web. He spoke enthusiastically about the opportunities for freedom and democracy that this technology offered for free – yet he was only too aware that this system was being misused, manipulated by totalitarian governments, and abused by individuals and groups, so contrary to his objectives.
The environmental crisis is due to our behaviour. So is the crisis in our economic and political systems brought about by powerful, secretive, avaricious interests at the expense of the majority. Austerity has been the experience of many. By any measure the existing capitalist system has failed and needs a thorough-going transformation.
The political system in the UK has failed, significantly in negotiations with the European Union but also in a wider context. Four nations constitute the UK, three of which have a large degree of devolution, while the most populated nation of the UK has been denied this. Democracy has been undermined.
The referendum in 2016 demonstrated the equal value of the franchise when more people than ever voted and rejected the EU. It was a clear warning to politicians: don’t ignore us.
The first-past-the-post electoral system favours a winner only, even if there are more opposition parties’ votes. In a proportional system all votes are recognised as having value. The two main political parties have been reluctant to consider change because it is not in their interests. But the best interests of the citizens are ignored. A radical change in our financial and political institutions is the priority.
I am not as concerned as Ken Veitch (15 November) at the impetuosity of the prime minister as I am about the silhouettes who stand starkly behind him. These are people who are rigid in their dogmatic views and set aside those of anyone else. The recent news that candidates for the forthcoming election have pledged to vote in a particular way in relation to Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal appears to be a negation of the democratic principle that MPs represent all their constituents and vote according to conscience. The suppression of the all-party report on Russian interference in UK elections is an assault on democratic transparency.
What is more worrying is the context. Britain has a serious problem with money laundering, shell companies and secrecy that successive governments have dragged their feet in combating.
On the home front, one cannot but marvel at the chief executives involved in public enterprises who, discovered to be incompetent, emerge elsewhere in similarly highly remunerated roles. Why are seventy-five per cent of ‘strategic suppliers’, companies with government contracts totalling £100 million, allowed to avoid taxation by basing themselves overseas, while those of us who pay taxes fund their profits?
Fortunately there are two causes for optimism. The first is the long and tortuous path towards the eventual reunification of Ireland. The second is the possibility that, as the two-party system collapses, we may see the introduction of a voting system that represents the wishes of all voters. Democracy faces hard times.
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