There has been a disturbing trend of unaccountability emerging in the western, so-called democracies. Politicians have not been highly regarded for their trustworthiness (the UK’s use of the word ‘honourable’ when talking about MPs is surely ironic) but their tendency to obfuscate, lie and generally mislead seems – with a few notable exceptions – to have become a prerequisite for their role in recent years.
Prior to the election, David Cameron promised a tough stance with regard to the EU but once in power, he appears to have backed away from this pledge. The result is that about 80% of our new laws and regulations will continue to be determined by European bureaucrats who have absolutely no accountability to us. Similarly, Cameron promised us a rolling-back of the surveillance state and a reinstatement of our civil liberties. ID cards were repealed (probably for economic reasons rather than concerns about infringements of civil liberties) but otherwise, the assaults on our traditional freedoms continue apace. The promises of the much-vaunted website, ‘Your Freedom’ and the ‘Great Repeal Bill’ spluttered into quiet oblivion.
In Australia, their ex-Brit Prime Minister, Julia Gillard – who brought about the downfall of her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, over his commitment to CO2 emissions trading – made a pre-election promise not to introduce a carbon tax. Now in power, the carbon tax she wasn’t going to introduce comes into being next year.
In America, Barack Obama campaigned on the promise of closing Guantanamo and bringing an end to the military trials of its inmates in line with America’s Supreme Court ruling. Not only is Guantanamo still in existence, but Obama has recently re-started the military trials. And while he didn’t make a specific pre-election commitment to no more wars, now that Obama has involved the US in the Libyan debacle, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning president presides over more wars than his hawkish and much-derided predecessor, George W Bush.
The pattern is striking: whoever we vote for largely maintains and develops the policies that we thought we were voting against. Little wonder that so many now feel so disenfranchised that they do not bother to exercise their hard-fought-for right to vote. And while our vote technically mandates governments, there is a question of legitimacy because the mandate is increasingly being given on the basis of promises that evaporate as soon as politicians enter into a working relationship with their executives. To this extent, our system, arguably, is just as corrupt as those in the nations selectively visited by UN or NATO task forces seeking to bomb their regimes into democracy.
All of this poses a rather unsettling question. If western policy is largely immune to elective change, then it is clear that politicians are not in control.
In which case, who is?
* This refers to a quote by John Adams (1735-1826), second President of the US: “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”
He was also responsible for this little gem: “Banks have done more injury to the religion, morality, tranquility, prosperity, and even wealth of the nation than they can have done or ever will do good.” How prescient.