If the whole ghastly debacle over Brexit has proven anything at all it’s how totally unfit for purpose the British parliament is. For those of us who have known that for a long time and campaigned vigorously for many years for its complete reformation this comes as no surprise. The whole shambolic system of Britain’s so-called democracy must be scrapped and replaced with a real democracy.
Somewhere at the heart of the Brexit farce lies the real nub of the problem – the fact that our parliament cannot cope with a truly democratic decision if it doesn’t like that decision. When the British people voted for Britain to quit the EU — a result that most of parliament opposed and never expected — the thing should have been quite straightforward: Britain quits the EU. But as everyone now knows that is not what happened. The last few weeks leading up to what was supposed to be the day Britain left the EU provided an endless series of incredible displays of parliamentary time-wasting and incompetence that turned Britain into a global laughing stock. Surely it is now abundantly clear that this whole creaking anachronism must go. Apart from being institutionally corrupt — its most important fault — the pseudo-democracy it practices is now clearly ludicrous.
Britain’s Green Party is the only significant political organisation I know of in the country which has not only known about this problem for many years, it also has a number of important radical policy proposals for putting it right. These include the drafting of a written constitution, scrapping the institution of monarchy and unelected parliamentarians, proportional representation, and creating direct democracy throughout a system of massively decentralised government. Far from being simply an environmentalist pressure group, their substantial policy document clearly states: “The Green Party isn’t just another political party. Green politics is a new and radical kind of politics”. And its proposals for total constitutional reform, creating real democracy for the first time in our history, clearly show their intentions.
Possibly the most important item on this list of proposed Green changes is their intention to create a written constitution. Britain is almost alone in the world in terms of not having one of these. The thing itself is not necessarily significant. After all, most countries have written constitutions, but this doesn’t prevent many of them from being badly run. So at least as important as a written constitution itself is the need to ensure mechanisms are in place for enforcing its provisions.
This might seem obvious, but to cite just one and perhaps the most important example — the United States, supposedly the global role model of freedom and democracy — serious breaches of its own constitution by its own rulers are not unusual. Henry Kissinger, for example, once the US Secretary of State, said, “The illegal we do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer”.1 So it’s clear to see that having a written constitution is one thing, making sure it’s effective is often something very different.
A constitution is supposed to be a written statement of the rules of a country’s government, a legally binding document applying to ALL its citizens, listing the rights and responsibilities of the government, and usually the country’s people too. It’s interesting to speculate as to why Britain has resisted having one throughout its history. The most obvious possibility is that if there are no written rules of how a government should conduct itself, the rulers may conduct themselves anyway they like. Given Britain’s long and blood-soaked history of barbaric oppression, in its own country and all over the world, this is clearly not a strong recommendation for allowing rulers to have such uncontrolled powers.
Scrapping Monarchy and Unelected MPs
It’s patently obvious that a government whose head of state is unelected and appointed by hereditary right, and whose parliament comprises a large decision-making body of people who are similarly unelected (the House of Lords), cannot seriously call itself a democracy. Yet Britain has managed to trick the world into believing this falsehood for a couple of hundred years.
The main reason this ludicrous farce has been so successful is because Britain’s monarchy and its unelected House of Lords have always supported the interests of a tiny handful of super-rich individuals above the interests of billions of other people around the world, as well as tens of millions of British people. The great genius Tom Paine accurately nailed this phenomenon, as he accurately nailed so many others. Writing in the introduction to “Common Sense”, the booklet that stirred the hearts of American settlers to fight for their independence from Britain, he said,
[A] long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom.
Because this tiny group of super-rich individuals have always been very careful to control the information that people receive they have nearly always been successful tricking people into thinking and acting against their own best interests. For many centuries this information-control was achieved by forging a tight alliance with religion. Priests were allowed to communicate with the masses, and profit from them, providing they communicated the right messages. Village churches throughout Britain, for example, occupied land owned by wealthy aristocrats. A priest was allowed to base himself in a church and extort impoverished parishioners — the position was called a “living” — providing he never upset the landlord. But given that most priests were themselves sons of rich fathers and landed gentry, that was seldom likely to be a problem. Therefore many generations of people came and went firmly believing in the divine right of monarchs and aristocrats to keep them in miserable subjugation – a widely-held view that survives to this day.
The scrapping of unelected monarchs and unelected MPs is, in itself, no guarantee of good government. After all, the most powerful rogue nation on Earth is ruled by an elected president, and there are many other failed states around the world that are ostensibly led by elected leaders. But the principle of elected leaders rather than unelected ones is unquestionably a superior concept. The very obvious flaws that currently exist are directly attributable to the corrupt practices of those supposedly democratic systems, rather than the principle itself. Therefore it’s very obvious that the constitution must be drafted, and enforced, in such a way that these anomalies are prevented.
No doubt many people would react with horror, given the farcical debacle over Brexit, to any suggestion that Britain should permanently be governed by a system of continual referendums – which basically is what direct democracy is. I mean, many people might reasonably argue that if direct democracy means more Brexit-type chaos, on a daily basis, then obviously we don’t want it. Although that reaction is perfectly understandable, it overlooks a couple of very important points.
Firstly, there’s the fact that direct democracy works perfectly well, as Switzerland, which has used the system for a long time, continually shows. Secondly, and possibly more importantly, providing that people are well and properly informed – which was not the case with the Brexit referendum – the people can usually be relied upon to make good and humane decisions. After all, trial by jury which, despite its numerous faults, is still better than any other way of resolving court cases, is direct democracy in miniature. So the principle of normal people, properly informed, making important decisions is clearly a very sound one.
The concept of democracy — as most people understand it — is not only a bad method of government. It’s also demonstrably corrupt. It’s based on the practice of people electing politicians who, in theory, are supposed to represent their best interests. So far from conforming to the widely used definition of democracy as being government for the people by the people, it is in practice government for the super-rich by the super-rich – which is pretty much how people have always been ruled – only the existing system is far more cynical and dishonest than outright tyranny, because it pretends to provide people with real political power whilst actually ensuring they don’t have it. Elected representatives who, for the most part, are simply paid employees of the super-rich, provide the veneer of democracy when what they’re actually doing is preventing it.
No doubt many who sincerely believe they live in a real democracy would react with horror to such a suggestion, but all they need to do is ask themselves who pays for election campaigns. Are they paid for by the people, or are they paid for by the super-rich? Given that democracy should be a public service, it should be paid for by the public like any other public service. But the reality is that the election campaigns of most governments have been bought and paid for by the super-rich. These people are not well known for their generosity or love of public service – which is why so many of them avoid paying their taxes — so why do they spend millions on election campaigns if not for the fact that they expect to be very well compensated by the winners? Which is, of course, exactly what happens as countless accounts of corruption in high places verify on an almost daily basis.
Many people with progressive tendencies have long championed the cause of proportional representation. Many so-called democracies use the “first-past-the-post” method of deciding election winners and losers, a system whereby the person with the most votes wins and gets elected to public office whilst whoever else competed in the election is forgotten about. Proportional Representation, on the other hand, takes account of every vote cast in an election and then allocates seats in proportion to the numbers voting for each political party. It is unquestionably a much fairer way of deciding elections, and should be implemented in any country that calls itself a democracy. However, direct democracy, which effectively bypasses elected representatives altogether and allows the citizen direct control of their government’s decisions, is even better yet — providing the citizen is properly informed — and should be the primary goal for all political activists.
One of the Greens’ most important policies is that of subsidiarity – democratic decision-making provided at the source of wherever a decision needs to be made. It’s the polar opposite of centralised government — the model practised by most countries — where some all-powerful regime effectively controls all decisions throughout the country. Whilst Britain, like many other countries, has some decentralised government functions in the form of local councils, the effective decision-making powers of local councils is significantly controlled by central government. This is achieved by central government having considerable control of money supply, and by having the powers to simply overturn any decisions made by local councils if they feel like it.
Decentralisation, effectively another word for subsidiarity, is a fine principle for the simple reason that it provides real decision-making power to people organised in small communities, communities which, when added together, comprise society as a whole. Switzerland provides a good working example of the model in practice.
Swiss cantons are similar in size to some English counties, but there the similarity ends, for cantons have considerably more power than their English equivalents — particularly regarding tax collections. As with their federal government Swiss citizens use direct democracy to control their cantons too, and may initiate referendums or veto new laws they’re not happy with.
Contrary to what opponents of direct democracy may claim, no doubt citing the British Brexit debacle to reinforce their argument, this considerable and direct power that Swiss citizens have over their government has done Switzerland no noticeable harm whatsoever. In fact, it’s made Switzerland one of the most stable, free, peaceful and well-respected nations in the world. It has achieved this whilst being relatively poor in natural resources, completely landlocked, without doing any imperial looting of distant lands, and surrounded by two of the worst wars in human history. Therefore their political model obviously has useful lessons for almost every other country to learn from.
The Party’s Over
There is absolutely no justification for maintaining the anachronistic and institutionally corrupt system of government that Britain uses. It must be totally scrapped and a new model created based on the principles outlined in this essay. The seat of government should be moved away from London to somewhere more central to the whole country — like Northampton, say. Building a brand new parliament where no monarch or chamber of unelected MPs have any official role, and where a network of decentralised local councils controlled by direct democracy may be efficiently coordinated will be a huge step in the right direction.
But there are two other essential changes that need to be made. Although they’re very different to each other they are quite possibly equally important.
The control and supply of money must be removed from the private banking system and placed where it belongs — in the hands of the new democratic state. Although money may not be absolutely essential to an economy, it unquestionably enables the economy to work more efficiently. Throughout history the availability of money has always been ruthlessly controlled by a tiny handful of super-rich individuals. There is absolutely no economic necessity for this. It happens only because that’s how the super-rich controllers of money want it to stay. But money should be seen as a human right, and the supply viewed as public service totally controlled by the state.
The second vitally important change that needs to happen is that the supply of public information must be vastly improved. A successful system of direct democracy would be largely determined by the quality of information that voters receive upon which to form their opinions and make their decisions. Most people will make good decisions if they are given good information, and they will make very bad ones if given bad information — as the catastrophic Brexit fiasco proves beyond any reasonable doubt.
One of the most obvious pieces of evidence that the British state does not provide its citizens with good information — or even allow them to find it for themselves — is the fact that the state’s obsession with secrecy borders on the psychotic. As I write these words the outrageous treatment being meted out to the heroic publisher Julian Assange by the British state, probably on behalf of its US controllers, is providing graphic evidence of how the state treats those who try to reveal its secrets for public inspection. Ian Cobain’s The History Thieves, for example, is a fine study of the extent to which this problem affects us. It is quite impossible to obtain good information about the actions of the state when so many of those actions are deemed too secret for the public to know about for very considerable periods of time. Therefore two of the easiest steps to take to ensure the public receive good information is to scrap the odious Official Secrets Act, and for the state to open for public access all of its vast archives of secret files.
The ability to access good information is also dependent on a fundamental change to our system of education. British schools serve as an important first step in the process of brainwashing British people. The most obvious piece of evidence of this is the teaching of history. History is a vitally important subject because it teaches us about how our country became what it is. Or that’s what it should teach. But the history that’s taught in most schools, a history of Britain’s supposed greatness, is totally different from the history taught by historians such as EP Thompson, say, or Al Morton, or the Hammonds, John Newsinger, Mark Curtis or Ian Cobain. These writers all explain British history in a very different way to the history taught in most British schools, a way which would teach most children to understand that far from being the great champions of justice, liberty and humanity that they’re taught to see most British kings and queens, lords and ladies, general and admirals, they would learn instead how many of these people were indistinguishable from psychotic murderers and thieves.
It would teach people to acquire a far more humble belief about Britain’s true role in history and teach them a far more humane and tolerant attitude to others. It would also create a desperately needed contempt for the super-rich ruling classes of today – instead of the fawning sycophantic subservient attitude that is instilled by the existing education system. The obvious evidence of this institutionalised brainwashing is apparent in the very name of the country – “Great” Britain. There’s very little about British history which deserves to be called great. If the name Britain needed an adjective at all, “Grim” Britain would be closer to the mark.
Also badly lacking in our current education system is teaching the ability to think clearly and logically, but also with humanity, compassion for all living things, and awareness of the desperate existential threat our planet is enduring — mostly because of human overpopulation together with the capitalist economic model that drives it and which ridiculously demands infinite growth from finite resources.
To complete the picture of essential changes to make to the quality of public information we also obviously have to look at the providers of so-called news, the information about daily events that affect our lives. There is now a vast quantity of evidence that proves how the so-called news is manipulated by the rich and powerful to manipulate people to think and behave in a particular way. This must change. It should not be necessary to censor this information, which is actually mis-information. All that’s needed is to provide a more accurate, honest and humane alternative. The great journalist John Pilger, quoting the American historian and journalist TD Allman wrote.
Genuinely objective journalism’ is that which ‘not only gets the facts right, it gets the meaning of events right. Objective journalism is compelling not only today. It stands the test of time. It is validated not only by “reliable sources” but by the unfolding of history. It is reporting that which not only seems right the day it is published. It is journalism that ten, twenty, fifty years after the fact still holds up a true and intelligent mirror to events. (my emphasis)2
A state-provided news service, guided by this principle — or something very near it — is all we need to combat the vast quantities of misinformation and fake news provided by the mainstream media. Combined with the incredible new information technologies that are now available, and a totally reformed education system, people would be properly prepared and able to cope with sweeping constitutional changes to the way we have been misruled for thousands of years.
The one useful thing that the Brexit fiasco has done is to reveal how utterly useless and unfit for purpose the British parliament is. As I said at the start of this essay, that is not news to those of us who have long campaigned for reform. Our parliament has always been primarily about protecting the interests of the super-rich, rather than doing what’s best for most British people.
The future will not forgive us
One of the most obvious pieces of evidence of this is clearly visible in the vast array of antiquated procedures that accompany almost every action carried out in the Houses of Parliament. From the annual state opening of parliament, an ancient and highly ritualised performance designed to show the supremacy of an unelected head of state appointed by hereditary succession, to the daily routine business of parliament where supposedly serious debates take place in what sounds more like a children’s playground than the most important decision-making forum in the land.
This ridiculous farce of a system, ludicrously masquerading as a global model of democracy, must go. It has caused infinitely more harm than good, and now, with Britain and the world in general facing a perfect storm of the most serious existential crises since dinosaurs disappeared, we have to have an entirely new system of government — a system that is both wholly and truly democratic, as well as being compassionate and humane. If we do not do this, now, the future will not forgive us — and rightly so.
- New York Times, October 28, 1973.
- Hidden Agendas, John Pilger, p. 525.