We Don't Live in a Democracy, but in an Oligarchy ; `Power Is Exercised without Very Much Regard to Westminster or the General Public'
Taylor, D J, The Independent (London, England)
IT TOOK one of my few remaining political heroes - the retiring speaker, Betty Boothroyd - to canvas a truth about the modern political process that one had long suspected but which practically no one ever admits: that we live not in a parliamentary democracy but an oligarchy.
Naturally, Miss Boothroyd didn't state this fact in so many words - she merely remarked on the "cynicism" of ministers who side- stepped Parliament when announcing policy - but the inference was pretty clear.
Political power in this country is largely unaccountable, exercised without very much regard to Westminster and - notwithstanding the fact that governments have to win elections - without very much regard for the general public either.
To anyone whose understanding of our political life was based solely on a study of the British Constitution, this kind of admission would probably seem shocking. No doubt the average citizen would be horrified to be told that his life is, broadly speaking, administered by a small, tightly- knit executive that he has only limited ability to disrupt, rather than the representatives of our glorious parliamentary democracy.
In fact, given the necessary complexities of political life in a country of 56 million people, it is not shocking at all. It was a Labour MP - the late Maurice Edelman - who suggested that as soon as you had parties the result was effectively government by caucus, decisions taken by stealth.
All this may well be inevitable, and even desirable. One of its more blatant consequences, though, is that "public opinion" no longer has much effect on the workings of the political process. On the crudest level, if public opinion counted for anything the Norfolk farmer Tony Martin, who shot the 16-year-old burglar he discovered on his staircase, would not be in prison, the killer of Sarah Payne, once found, would be hanged, and Section 28 would be left exultantly in place.
I am not at all anxious that any of these things should happen, but the fact remains that any genuine expression of public sympathy or displeasure usually scares a government stiff.
One remembers the terrific fuss made a few years ago when a BNP goblin was elected for a council seat in Millwall. Nobody wants right-wing bigots in council chambers, of course, and yet investigation revealed deep- seated local resentment of the council's housing policies. Deplorably, voting for a fascist was the only way that "public opinion" could make itself felt. …