Saturday, January 24, 2009

All must be changed, changed utterly

Britain may only now have entered recession, but the trajectory remains relentlessly down.

A huge part of our national wealth and prestige, the City of London, is massively weakened. This matters hugely because so much of our innovation, so much of our best talent was invested in the financial services sector. Now a great part of the attraction of London as a global city has gone. The impact of fewer and lesser international connections will reduce the capacity of all of the British economy to enrich our citizens. All of us are going to get a lot poorer.

Yet the mass of the political class- Conservative as well as Labour- are still speaking in terms of the past. While it is understandable that Mr. Brown would want to keep flogging the dead horse of his policies, it is very worrying to see how little thought or imagination is being shown on the opposition benches.

Yet there has been one small straw in the wind about how our country might restore some of its lost wealth and pride. The attempt by the government to prevent publication of MPs expenses was blocked, not by the opposition, but by a determined campaign launched by bloggers over the Internet. Of course the cause was an easy sell: in the real world all of us must account for every penny of our expenses, both to our employer and to the tax man, the idea that MPs would not was outrageous to almost everyone else.

However, the possibility that citizens may still exert pressure on their elected representatives outside elections is an intoxicating one. That so many citizens were prepared to make an issue of this was also encouraging.

Yet we need a political system that is more transparent and more responsive not just to flash campaigns, but to a far broader range of knowledge and expertise. Parliament and government remains a closed and exclusive club with almost insurmountable barriers to entry. The "free market" in British Politics is nothing of the kind, but a labyrinth of restrictive practices. It is not much of a democracy when the fate of this country is decided not by the equal votes of all our citizens but by a few tens of thousands living in marginal seats. The unbalanced electoral system prevents new ideas, still less new parties, from being able to enter the political world. The result is a divorce between those inside the political class and the rest of us.

I believe in the energising power of competition in party politics, just as much as in economics.

At a time when it is quite clear that we can not go on in the old ways in our economy, it is clear that new ideas and new hope is needed. I do not think that it will be enough to change the party of government, though that is now desirable and likely, we must change the system of government. Greater transparency, greater accountability and a wider range of minds operating in the political world must come.

The alternative is for Britain to become like nineteenth century Spain: alternating political parties that only serve to mask a unified, closed, corrupt and incompetent political elite.

Perhaps it is time for a mass of bloggers to unite not just around a single issue, like the expenses of MPs, or even their respective party political allegiances, but to unite around a clear programme for the wholesale political reform of our country.

The nineteenth century slogan of peace, economic retrenchment and political reform still has echos for us in the twenty-first century.

No comments: