Sunday, April 20, 2008

Which side are you on?

I've been busy, so I missed this post by Gracchi on politicians and their private lives. He is responding to Tim Montgomerie and Matt Sinclair.

I'm very much on Gracchi's side of this argument, but I think that there is a much more powerful argument that he fails to make:

Our constitution, such as it is, specifies MPs as being the people who should make the big policy decisions that will effect us all. They get their legitimacy from us when we vote for them, and they need our approval every 3-5 years to continue in that post.

Politicians have rivals. People who we would probably prefer not to supersede politicians, but people who don't really care what we think. They are, in no particular weight or order, commercial vested interests, professional commentators, minority groups within the general population, bureaucrats, and representatives of foreign powers.

These people often conduct themselves in highly complex sub rosa ways. They hire deniable PR companies, they attempt to influence people in subliminal ways, they commission dubious research, they are able to call upon sympathetic journalists to distort issues massively. This paragraph could hextuple in length without even scratching the surface of the kind of latitude that non-elected political influencers enjoy in their daily competition with politicians.

But here's one example that I've not seen articulated in the blogosphere before - until I visited the absolutely bloody excellent Labour and Capital blog, that is: The way that fund managers make decisions about their shareholdings. Often decisions that can be made off-the-cuff without any accountability or scrutiny - and decisions that act against the public interest (or, indeed the interests of those shareholders). Just one example.

So, call for more scrutiny of politicians - their private lives and their decision-making processes - if you like. I'm in favour of some improvements in the transparency and quality of parliamentary decision-making myself.

But, if you make those demands without making commensurate demands upon the many rivals that politicians have, you need to remind yourself which side you are on.

And, like Tim M, and Matt S, and the many liberals that ignore the narrative of history as a clash of social forces, it is not on the side of democracy.

Within liberal democracies, it is the real dividing line between the left and the right. Am I wrong?

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