Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Britain Playing its Part on the World Stage

Britain Playing its Part on the World Stage

Posted as a comment to Daniel Finkelstein@s piece in The Times of 3.2.10

The news today (press and radio), mentions the review of defence spending. We hear and phrases like “Britain Playing its Part on the World Stage”, “Britain being an Important Player.” I see ten year old boys (nine, eight, year old?), myself included, strutting their stuff. “I’m the leader, ’cause I can beat you up.”

Britain and France still spend much more of their GPD on Defence than other European countries. (Did I say “Defence”? Surely “Attack” is the correct term.) This is because British and French politicians delude themselves that national greatness depends on having plenty of guns and bombs with which to beat other nations up.

I hope – I think – that by the age of fourteen or so, I no longer believed being able to beat up other boys was most important thing to achieve.

Haven’t British politicians learnt yet that Britain’s greatness has nothing to do with shooting and bombing foreigners?

What British people will be remembered by the historians? William Shakespeare, Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin. Poets and scientists. Not generals and politicians.

The plays of Sophocles and Aristophanes are still being performed two and a half thousand years after their deaths. How many members of the public attending one of those performances would be able to say who Pericles was. The ‘great leader’ of Athens at her greatest did not even merit a biography for nearly five hundred years.

“Britain Playing its Part on the World Stage.” Maybe British leaders should take that phrase literally rather than metaphorically, and increase expenditure on arts and sciences, rather than on exploding bombs.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Has Gordon Brown become a democrat?

Has Gordon Brown become a democrat? I doubt it. But let’s cheer his first hesitant toddler-stumbles towards democracy.

Britain, called a democracy by its political leaders, is usually governed by a political party for whom not much more than a quarter of the British people have voted.

Surely every British citizen — apart from Members of Parliament and the various entourages — must consider our method of selecting our rulers to be ludicrous. Our system in effect forces the British people to choose their government from one of two parties. We might as well save the expense of elections, and toss a coin to decide which party will form the government, while each constituency organises a drawing of straws for the local MP. That would be no less democratic than our current system, save a lot of money, and save a lot of politicians from having to tell lies.

Now Gordon Brown has suggested Parliament should consider another system of voting. We automatically assume this is because he thinks it might benefit Labour. It is not Proportional Representation, and we can safely assure ourselves that a very small number of the British people will know how the suggested system, referred to as the Alternative Vote System, will actually work., Nick Robinson in his blog of 2.2.10, offers an explanation.

The only significant thing is this. Mr Brown has proposed this method of voting should be discussed by Parliament, and if Parliament passes the Bill, it should be referred to the citizens of Britain in a referendum. No doubt, if it ever gets that far, the width of choice offered the citizens of Britain will be minimal.

But whatever the wording of whatever referendum may finally be offered to the British people — if indeed it ever is offered, however limited, even unreal, the choice presented to us, this could be the breach in the walls of elected tyranny, this could be the tentative beginnings of turning Britain into a democracy.

The possibility of a referendum. The possibility of the British people being asked how they want to be governed. Such a referendum would be a baby’s first struggle to walk upright compared to the march past of the rigidly erect political parties.

If this proposal ever gets to a referendum, the wall of oligarchy has been chipped, the gate of democracy is ajar.