The aim of the infrastructure of any Western democratic Government is to prevent tyranny. It is set up in a way that distributes power so too much isn’t vested in one person and they are left unable to abuse it. This is why Montesquieu so famously propounded the separation of powers between the legislature (law makers), the executive (Prime Minister/ President/ Chancellor) and the judiciary (the courts). The legislature is separated from the executive so that laws do not reflect, beyond what is proportionate, the motivations and, perhaps, selfish desires of the elected head of state. The judiciary is separated from government so that the courts may exercise regulatory scrutiny over it’s decisions.
Beyond this, the executive itself isn’t a permanent, unchanging institution; the set up of the system prevents it being so. In the UK the Government is mandatorily up for election after a 5 year term so the people are afforded an opportunity to express their faith in that self same Government by re-electing it, or to show their discontent by electing a newbie. The yanks take this a step further emulating a trend set by their venerated freedom fighter (the original terrorist as far as the English establishment of the 18th century was concerned) G. Washington, of limiting the amount of times a President can legally serve, to two terms.
Power needs to be vested in some institution for anything to get done. If it were left unallocated it would cease to be power and would just be a muddling tornado of competing views, debate, thrown fists and ‘harrumphs’ because the socialistically inclined Bertha wanted to share everything but predatorily capitalistic Quentin didn’t. The issue, or rather, the fundamental mission of democracy is to vest power in an institution, in a person or group of people, without wrenching it completely from the hands of the citizens. How to legitimate a ruler and give them the go ahead to make decisions that affect everyone. This of course spurred the anti-monarchic revolutions of the 18th century in the US and France when a mandate by God was no longer a sufficient credential for King George to tax the yanks dry or for Louis 16th to powder his face before shovelling fois gras into it while his people starved.
So the answer we’ve come up with? A Government of the people, by the people and for the people. A wonderful Ancient Greek motif personified in modern times by elected representatives. The people that form Government are put there by the electorate on the basis that they will represent the majority’s interests in line with the promises that persuaded the people.
Isn’t this all heavenly? We’ve done it; we’ve produced a veritable oasis of glittering democracy where everyone has a say, our leaders act in our best interests and tyranny is but a term of antiquity relegated to use in reference to Burkha’d foreigners and flag burning heretics in the sandy third world. Yes it’s all so beautiful. It is this set up and its continued operation that legitimates the American’s fevered flag waving and spittle specked protestations that the US is the “LAND OF THE FREE, MOTHERFUCKER!” It’s this system, with its checks and balances, that allows the English to rest content in their arrogant superiority because they are a well-informed and discerning populace who hold influence over their governance. It’s for this reason that the US proudly displays its constitution encased for posterity in plexiglass so its subjects may gaze upon that document of liberation and it’s why the British venerate the Houses of Parliament and the democracy they play host to.
Western democracy with its fabled freedom and exoneration of rights is, however, fallible. These checks and balances that are our birthright can be breached.
In Britain, every Prime Ministerial candidate is cut from the same cloth. They are all products of public schooling, Oxbridge graduates and City boys who will have invariably been involved with, in one sense or another, the Bullingdon club. It doesn’t escape notice that each and every one now sounds like a recording of the other: pompous rhetoric, empty words, and strong sounding nothings.
The UK at the moment seeks change from the ‘same old shit’. And so the rise of UKIP has pervaded British politics; a brilliantly tragic political movement that manages to veil its racism beneath moralistic assertions that its not about ‘Johnny foreigner’, its about the economic welfare of the UK. A party headed by the delightfully salt-of-the-earth, beer swilling little Englander Nigel ‘suspiciously-foreign-sounding-surname’ Farage. His straight talking, shoot-from-the-hip ‘no bollocks’ approach is refreshing for a lot of Britons whose eardrums are numbed from the incessant pounding they receive by repetitive political soundbites and vague, idealistic, crowd pleasing nonsense. Nigel Farage is an outsider, a political maverick, a rebel taking the system from within.
But what of the time before Nigel Farage became the face of suppressed middle-class racism? Well, he was a publicly educated City boy – just like the rest.
The doors to number 10 are fed by a conveyer belt upon which sit black tie and bowler hat clad old Etonians, each with the same upbringing, the same experiences and the same basic world view. While the political system has attempted to stop tyranny and the propagation of vested interests by installing checks and balances in the form of elections and the separation of powers, this is undermined when each new candidate is a clone of the one before.
In the US a rather more insidious state of affairs infects the well intentioned Government structure. Most politicians in the US have sat as members of the board, as advisors, or as lawyers for the bloated, burgeoning multinational corporations that course through the veins of that country. In a political arena defined by lobbyists and political sponsors and in which money not only talks, but screams and won’t shut up, there are no checks and no balances to limit the power of the corporation and the vested interests of the monied few. No amount of re-elections or term limits can rid the US of the tyranny of the corporations or liberate the Government system from its present purpose as an engine to achieve corporate goals.
The status quo has become accepted because we’ve been told over and over again by history classes which compare our utopian society to feudalistic hell holes, by politicians who compare our governance and culture to the fundamentalist religious despots of the middle-east and by our parents who tell us that we don’t know how good we got it. These points are valid, certainly. I would much rather live in the cosy three counties despite all its snobbery, materialism, vapid shallow concerns and infuriating distraction, ignorance and superficial idiocy than, say, be waking up in a gloomy North Korea, dejectedly picking out my Tuesday jumpsuit and going out to the fields to work in return for not being shot.
But this doesn’t change the fact that things need to change. We’ve lost our penchant for change. We’ve lost our drive, our motivation, our concern for things that actually matter. This society seems to think its reached the peak of civilisation and so it can sit back, relax and watch two inbreds argue about whose sister fucked whose dog on Jeremy Kyle, or watch pseudo-journalists discuss the ramifications of the thing that politician said, which offended a couple people, or discuss for hours, with consternation etched in every furrow of its face, how its awful that Brandon isn’t coming to the party and how the fact he performed cunnilingus on Jennifer and never called her is the worst thing to happen since the Rwandan genocide.
We are irresponsible citizens who, like michelin-man-fat drooling babies clapping and giggling on mummy’s living room floor, rely on the status quo, rely on the powers that be; we just assume that everything is fine, we are safe, we are cared for – its not our responsibility, its theirs. Certainly, like the podgy baby, we cry, kick and scream if we don’t get our favourite Furbie, but once we get it thrust into our grasping hands we just giggle, roll over and suck our thumbs, completely oblivious to mummy’s alcoholism slowly burning a hole in the family purse.
Revolution is a word that we don’t associate with ourselves, its a word that only applies to North African and Middle-Eastern dictatorships or to Eastern European Oligopolies. But this is wrong, entirely wrong. Revolution should be a word always on the tip of our consciousnesses. It needn’t necessarily be violent or conjure up images of militiamen fighting the redcoats or royal French heads on pikes, but it should be there. Revolution can take many forms and it is every citizens duty to always remain aware of the status quo, of the ‘issues’, of the trajectory of society and to act accordingly, rather than popping another beer, throwing some Pringles down our throats and getting irate over football.