Sunday, May 24, 2009

Democracy, demagogy and deficits

Hmmm, on the whole expenses thing Paulie's went and changed his mind just when I'm beginning to think he was right the first time. Well, not quite. I've always thought people like his and Aaronovitch's eagerness to defend 'politics' ran the risk of over-compensating and sliding into deference.

However, despite the fact I don't think there's any real danger of the BNP grasping or even coming close to holding the balance of power - nor do I think the Berlusconification of the UK political system is very likely - the present damage to the legitimacy of Parliament is causing me more concern than it has done previously.

There's two reasons for this. One is the economy. Haven't discussed it before because I didn't really want to give ammunition to the Tories but I'm thinking it doesn't really matter because a) the Tories aren't interested in economics anymore, b) hardly anyone reads this blog anyway.

But if I've understood the figures I trawled out of here correctly then I think I'm right in saying that Gordon Brown has presided over the fastest and deepest fiscal deterioration in postwar British economic history - and that's before the credit crunch. Furthermore, I would argue that those suggesting it doesn't matter are completely wrong because what it means is that unless something turns up - like someone striking oil when they're cleaning a moat or something - budgets for the foreseeable future are going to comprise of tax rises and spending cuts, thereby breaking the perceived relationship between the tax burden and the provision of public services.

This would put a strain on the legitimacy of government at the best of times but against a background of expenses scandals, it's going to be enormously difficult. This is why all this matters. The perception that they've been lining their own pockets and are then going to take more out of ours without giving anything back is going to create problems. But in the general 'what is to be done?' arguments I can find only things that are likely to make matters worse. I trust anyone reading this thinks all these 'anti-sleaze' candidates are likely to be a waste of time? Single-issue politics is almost always what Paulie calls 'anti-politics'. Ok, so you've got a white suit and you won't expect the tax-payer to pay as you wank off to porn. Good - but what spending are you going to cut and what taxes do you think should rise?

But the other stuff isn't going to do any good either. Most of the 'reforms' being suggested should be considered on their own merits, not as a response to an expenses scandal. Some of them I would support, like an elected second chamber. But what, exactly, has PR to do with any of this? The scandal has to do with how MPs behaved after they got elected and has nothing much to do with the mechanism by which they got elected. In what way does PR make MPs more accountable to the electorate? I appreciate not all systems do this but most of them take power from the local parties and the electorate and hand it to the party machine. I know who my FPTP MSP is - but the list member? Haven't a clue.

Not only this but PR often produces weak government - and this we don't need surely? In Scotland the parties couldn't even agree on a coalition, leaving us with a minority government that has the power to do precisely nothing except play silly buggers. Would a coalition government comprised of Esther Rantzens and a multiplicity of small parties be able to agree a first budget, which will of necessity be something of a horror show of tax rises and spending cuts? To describe this as doubtful is surely something of an understatement...

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