We enter the Portcullis House of Her Majesty’s newly-renamed
Appropriately, we were there to hear Mr Clogg address Charter 88 (now Unlock Democracy) for their 20th anniversary get-together.
Introduced by Baroness Helena Kennedy, styling herself a “Liberal Socialist”, and with a reply from Dame Ferdinand Mount, bigging up Mr Balloon’s PR pose as a “Liberal Conservatory”, Mr Clogg spoke for quarter of an hour about the INTERTWINE-ED-NESS of Great Britain’s current economic crisis and the wretched state of Great Britain’s political settlement.
He began with an apology, an apology because of his pessimism about our current situation in spite of all the achievements that Charter 88 has, er, achieved: the Human Rights Act (under pressure as it is); Freedom of Information (much a the Government tries to twist its way out of it); Devolution to Scotland and Wales (well that seems to have worked out). Mr Clogg praised them for their stubbornness, their resilience, their sense of purpose, their sense of mission.
But, he said, for all the steps forward there had been too many steps back.
The mass CRIMINALISATION of our society, with Hard Labour Government making on average another TWO things illegal EVERY SINGLE DAY.
The lopsided, partial, unfair electoral system that gives untrammelled unaccountable power to a Government with the support of less than a quarter of the eligible voters.
And the advance of the surveillance state, the DNA databases and I.D.iot card schemes that no one ever asked for and that even this week the Government is looking to allow further pooling of data in spite of their notorious inability to keep it secure.
The opening sentence of the 1988 Charter, “We have had less freedom than we believed”, is truer now than in 1988, he said.
But what are we doing worry about “the constitution” when there’s an ECONOMIC DISASTER overwhelming us!
Well, says Mr Clogg, the manner in which we have MISMANAGED the economy is DIRECTLY linked to the way that we have conducted our politics.
The “Winner takes All” culture leads directly to “Boom and Bust”. The system that gives the government an unrepresentative majority allows it to BLUNDER ON without accountability or proper oversight or the need to listen to voices like Mr Dr Vince “the Power” Cable so that it is BOUND to make STUPID decisions. And a centralised, over-mighty executive is more susceptible to being captured by VESTED INTERESTS, like the way that the City of London has ruled the British Governments of either colour for the last TWENTY YEARS.
(Do you see how he tied that in to the Charter ’88 anniversary there!)
This is a crisis that rests on the POWERLESSNESS of the British people. The self same complaints, voiced by the people who talked to Baroness Helena on the Power Commission, the same anger, the same fury even about the way they are left out of decision making by politicians could be said about the way that the banking system didn’t hold the people in charge to account and let them spiral right OUT OF CONTROL.
And, going all YODA for a moment, Mr Clogg explains: POWERLESSNESS leads to ANGER and ANGER leads to QUESTIONING OUR LIBERAL DEMOCRACY and QUESTIONING OUR LIBERAL DEMOCRACY leads to EXTREMISTS.
Every crisis is seen as an opportunity by the extremists, the populists, the xenophobes and the bigots, thriving on people’s fear and offering the quick and easy-seeming answers, assigning blame rather than taking action, advocating insularity that (as we saw in the Great Depression) makes matters WORSE not better.
Fortunately, there is a “but”!
Dame Ferdinand, in replying, quoted LENIN (typical Conservatory!) saying Mr Clogg had “pessimism of the intellect, but optimism of the will”.
“But” said Mr Clogg, the very crisis that exists ALLOWS us to think the radical things, to consider the impossible. As we nationalise banks willy-nilly, as we hand out billions to the car industry, as we RE-WRITE the whole way that Capitalism works… let us take the opportunity to re-write the way we do politics as well.
And these things go fluffy-foot in fluffy-foot!
As we bring greater accountability to Government, we can reform the City of London.
As we introduce fair elections so everyone has an equal voice, not just the vested interests, we can design an economy that caters for the needs of everyone, not just the best off.
As we open up Government to supervision by its citizens, and roll back the intrusive, unwanted surveillance state, we can open up companies to greater participation by their employees, and free the innovative spirit of Britain.
And as we make the MUCH-NEEDED reform to the House of Commoners and House of Lords Club, we can reform the short-termism of the “get rich quick” “something for nothing” culture and invest for a sustainable, prosperous, green future.
PS:*Government efficiency being what it is, we expect that the database in question is either NHS Connecting for Health or ContactPoint.
PPS:Mr Clogg also said that Unlock Democracy nee Charter ’88 should continue to badger, hector and embarrass politicians into working together. He said he had started his leadership by trying it: he wrote to Mr Frown and Mr Balloon about the possibility of organising a Constitutional Convention.
Mr Frown, he said, brushed him off saying: “all my reforms are perfect already”
Mr Balloon, though, was enthusiastic: “yes, yes, yes, let’s gang up on Gordon”
But then Mr Clogg spotted Conservatory Mr Davis David in the audience...
...and Mr Clogg welcomed his presence as a sign that politicians could work together to fix politics!