Monday, 3 April 2017

How our sham democracy works

So you think you live in a democracy? Well, you are right, you do. But it's not quite the democracy you probably think. I just pulled this definition off my Mac: - "control of an organization or group by the majority of its members " . To me, that is a satisfactory definition. You could substitute 'organisation' with 'country' and 'members' with electorate', and you would have a definition which fits the UK. The key word though is 'control'. In a democracy 'control' means that the will of the electorate can make change happen - including fundamental change.

So why is our democracy a sham? It works like this: You can vote, and you can make change happen but there are certain things that can't be changed, really important things like our economic system, which determines the kind of society we have. Why can't 'we' make those fundamental changes? Because the market, or call it big business or capitalism if you prefer, is in control. How does this work and how did it happen? If we look at recent history - in the past 40 years or so our politicians have ceded control to the 'market'. It has happened through the capture of institutions. The European Union is a good example of this. European treaties contain clauses which dictate how our economy works. In effect they create a European constitution which binds us to the market through so called 'liberalisation'. This means that we have to follow a right wing ideological economic programme

This 'free' market programme is neoliberal and its one that is followed by almost all governments in the 'West'. It means that corporations can dodge taxes, trade unions get disempowered, environmental regulations are watered down, people are mired in debt (e.g. student loans), public services are privatised, and countries are run for the benefit of the 1%.

The USA is still the epitome of capitalism but its doesn't say in the constitution that the country has to be capitalist. Those kind of ideological-cum-economic statements have no place in a constitution. What has happened is that politicians have put commercial interests above our democratic rights. On a lower level it works in the UK like this. If a multinational wants to build a superstore in your town centre your local council can't stop it from happening. The citizens of that town can't take a democratic decision that they don't want it. The 'rights' of the multinational have been put above our democratic rights. Of course we can still vote, and we can still decide to do things like introduce gay marriage, because that doesn't threaten the economic status quo, but we can't run our economy in the way we choose.

Our politicians never asked us if we wanted this. If they had they know we would have rejected it. But the point is that many of us are unaware of exactly what happened. Historically, where people have kicked back, such as in the referendums in France and Ireland where European treaties were rejected, the politicians have fixed it so they got the result they wanted in the first place. It's not just the EU but all the major institutions such as the WTO, IMF and World Bank that adhere to this neoliberal ideology masquerading as economic policy. The plan is to ensure that a particularly nasty, laissez faire version of capitalism is completely dominant - social and collective concerns are subsumed to the agenda of big business, and democracy is undermined.

While they may not appreciate all the details of how our democracy has been stitched up in the interests of corporations and the 1% many people understand that our democracy doesn't work for them. That is one of the key reasons that voter turnout has fallen so dramatically in many countries like the UK. And that is how we can get a government elected by only 24% of eligible voters which is what happened in the UK in 2015. Are the powers that be worried about this? Of course not - voter apathy suits those who are on control!

Despite this, our democracy is still worth something. We can put democratic rights back on top. But we can only do this if we first understand what's really happened, and have the will to re-capture our institutions from those who have 'stolen' them. Only by becoming politically active at a local level and resiting at a national level can we we turn the tide against the corporations, tax-dodging rich and their tame politicians who advance their interests at our expense.  

This is an updated version of a post from 2012. Nothing much has changed - for the better!

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