27 March 2011

The myth of 'democracy'................

In 2003 I was one of the millions of citizens who sought to make their views known to the then Government about the proposed Iraq War. I didn't agree with the war then and I have the same reservations about our Libyan adventure today. But my experience of 2003 was that the then Government had already made the decision to join Dubya in his 'Boys Own' adventure and it didn't really make any difference that millions took to the streets to voice their opposition.

As a direct consequence, I now experience a significant degree of frustration when faced with major government decisions with which I disagree and about which I believe that I will be able to do nothing. Clearly, many others experience the same frustrations and this raises the question as to how, in our democracy, can we disagree with our government?

The old Somerton Town Council was a perfect illustration of the lack of accountability in our local governmetal process. Just how accountable are our elected representatives? Not very if the conduct of the old Town Council is anything to go by. But how does the ordinary citizen hold their 'elected representatives' to account? The proponents of our 'democratic process' would have us believe that having an election once every 4 or 5 years makes our elected representatives 'accountable' and that is true, for the couple of weeks before the election. But what happens in the years after an election and before the next one? Are our elected representatives accountable in that period and, going by my own experience, the answer is 'no', unless, that is, the electorate can bestir themselves to voice their views.

That happened in Somerton in October of 2009 with the issue of Badgers Cross and the widespread opposition to Cllr Canvin's plans caused the mass resignation. But the problem is that 'the electorate' need to appreciate that their responsibility for making their elected representatives accountable is an ongoing responsibility. The more that the electorate are involved, the more will their elected representatives reflect the views of the electorate rather than the interests of specialist lobby groups. The less the electorate are involved, the more the actions of our elected representatives will reflect the interests of lobby groups and special interest groups. The work of such groups or individuals is on-going and relentless and, at local level, is best seen in the development community with regard to influencing planning policy and planning applications.

The electorate are at a huge disadvantage in this process in that lobby groups and special interest groups are driven by potential benefit, usually financial, and this pays for the lobbying effort. The electorate, on the other hand, already have a day job and their efforts must be self-funding.

Which is exactly why elected representatives need to be free of any interests which might influence their decision making, particularly in planning matters. At a local level, anyone with an involvement in construction or contracting or any profession with links to those activities, should be precluded from standing for elected office. Extreme? Yes, quite probably. But would it give the electorate more confidence in their local representatives? Yes, quite probably.