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Tuesday 12 November 2019
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Commentary

A democratic maze

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To sacrifice country for party, or to do the opposite and sacrifice party for country, that is the question many politicians have to answer at the moment. Whether it is wise to ignore the lessons of history and follow your leader as he surges forward blindly, brandishing half-baked ideas upon the world for political gain, that is the other big question that must be preying on their minds.

Maybe some will exercise good judgement and do the right thing but there is no easy way to resolve these dilemmas that crop up, nearly always, for those who choose a political life. Yet, one senses that we are in a particular moment in history where it is important for politicians to examine whether they want to be carried along with the flow or to stand up against a growing sea of troubles, and by opposing end them, for the benefit of all of us.

The Republican Party in the US and the British Conservative Party both produced significant leaders in the last century whose decisions reshaped the world, for better and for worse. Now, we are witnessing a pendulum swing away from long abiding liberal policies towards nationalism and protectionism, championed by populist leaders. The ever deepening crisis caused by the erratic nature of the US leadership emanating from the White House is looking increasingly like an over elaborated scriptwriter’s draft for a TV drama. The shifting of the moral compass so that an incumbent president does not know instinctively that it is wrong to even begin to consider that a high profile international state occasion could be hosted on that person’s personal property, where the profit to be garnered is massive, is yet another symptom of the malaise that is afflicting the world of politics.

My fellow columnist Reggie Dumas has been writing about hubris, which I have seen to be the unmaking of some potentially very high achievers. History is replete with clever men who lost the plot. The possible constitutional unravelling of the UK because of Brexit is the result of one of the most dazzling spectacles of political hubris ever, and politicians and their leaders not being able to see the wood from the trees.

Predicting what unfolds there is in the realms of stargazing because every day, if not every hour, there is another turn into a maze, from which there is no exit. But, for sure this incredible Brexit saga will make its way into the UK’s ample canon of political satire and onto the stages of its national and fringe theatres, and the history books will recall it as one of the most important times, in the early part of the 21st century, for the mother of parliaments and the people of that now beleaguered country.

I console myself, however, in the knowledge that Britain not only hauled itself back from revolution, killing its king, and splitting itself off from the holy Roman Catholic Church while the pope really had the power of God on Earth, but it triumphed. Maybe, like a cat, that extraordinary country has only nine lives, but I believe Britain has many more of that nine still in hand.

As for TT, I had to closely examine my prejudices and perhaps displaced sense of fair play when I found myself incredulous at the naming of a candidate for the impending local elections in my area. I had switched on to a radio station while in my car and happened to hear a live announcement by one of the political parties intending to contest the local government elections of the would-be councillors on their slate. I learned that the person being fielded for my constituency was not only very young – nothing wrong with that, I like young people and even admire them – but the person, given his sole mentioned experience being the father of three and some sort of assistant on the URP scheme, had no experience in management or finance or even advocacy.

I wondered about the seriousness of the screening process and if that person could read a balance sheet, or had been lectured about ethics and good governance. As far as I could tell that person could no more tell if the annual accounts were off than identify the stars in the night sky. How could I possibly vote for someone when I have no confidence in their ability to represent effectively the interests of everybody in my/his constituency?

I have always been a passionate defender of local government and in a citizen’s duty to vote, as I believe that is how democracy should work, from the bottom up and for everyone, but local government needs to function well and efficiently. After all, the city and borough corporations can have quite large budgets and are responsible for a wide range of important public services. I hope that the 2019 Local Government Reform Bill, still before the House, will make a significant improvement in the workings of our democracy.

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