Western Democracies In Trouble

It would seem that our democracies in Canada and the U.S.A. are not the only ones ailing - especially with regards to the increasing - and successful - assaults on our privacy and civil liberties ... all in the name of the false God of Security.

Indeed - things are not looking so good either in the U.K. Case in point with the following article (and I invite you good folks to rejoin me below after reading it):


What do we do now?
Anthony Barnett

A leading Conservative politician in Britain and former shadow home secretary has broken ranks with the political and media establishment to launch a campaign linking government plans to extend the time suspects can be held without charge to a wider erosion of rights and liberties. In a sweeping essay, openDemocracy's founder (and OurKingdom editor) Anthony Barnett assesses what is at stake and sees this moment as a historic test of democratic commitment for liberals and radicals.

We are at a potentially historic moment in British politics. David Davis has raised the banner of Britain's liberty in the modern world and is attempting to appeal to the people to secure it. He has gone over the heads of the ruling elite, in parliament, the parties and the media, to take two great issues to the voters: the asphyxiation of our freedom, and the incapacity of our parliamentary system to defend us from it. The by-election he forced on 12 June 2008 with his resignation as Conservative member of parliament and shadow home secretary is only the start of what may need to be a much wider year-long campaign to prevent "42 days" - the length of time the government proposes to grant itself the power to hold detainees without charge in terrorism-related cases - from becoming law, and this will be only the opening round of a profound effort to establish contemporary democracy in the United Kingdom.

Across the network of paid commentators and politicians it was immediately agreed that the action of David Davis was a pointless, selfish, celebrity-seeking gesture. This, indeed, is what they want it to be, as his initiative threatens their monopoly over defining what is important. Whatever brought him personally to his moment of defiance the decision David Davis has taken is profoundly radical: what he was saying from the steps of the House of Commons is that parliament won't defend us because it is corrupted and suborned. It is. The whole of our political class tell us it isn't. They would, wouldn't they.

When he became prime minister on 27 June 2007, Gordon Brown knew there was a problem. He pledged that he would restore trust in parliament. He had done his reading, he seemed to have grasped the depth of people's disenchantment and its constitutional consequences. As a result I had some hope that he would indeed start a reform process that would release public energy and begin to revive British democracy. Instead, he has made it much worse. It is not just the stench of a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to get through 42 days. "Is it right", Diane Abbott MP asked in a strong speech during the debate on 11 June,
"that our civil liberties should be traded in such a bazaar? Is it appropriate or right that we should trade votes at the United Nations on the basis of such political pandering?"
David Davis's views on the death penalty and low taxes are hardly appealing to progressives, liberals or the left; a Yorkshire constituency where Labour is third is not best situated for a showdown on the nature of the British state; coming at the summer solstice when parliament will soon take a holiday this is an awkward moment. But even if you think it has been done by the wrong man, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, you have to decide: is this in any important way your banner too, that he has raised.

I have been surprised at the degree of jealously and small-mindedness towards his action on the left, though mainly from those in political parties. This is one of those potentially shaping moments, which never come at your own choosing, where you need to think in a generous, strategic way. In some of the discussion threads people are saying progressives cannot "allow" David Davis to walk away with the flag of liberty or the ‘issue". But who dropped the flag in the first place? The man matters, but the cause and the potential of the moment matter much more.

Here one feels the decomposition of Labour as an influential movement. Individual MPs stood firm but there was no sense of Labour being divided in a way that had wider consequence. The overwhelming majority of its ordinary membership surely oppose the measure. But they continue to leave the party quietly and privately. The underlying cataract of their disaffection is one of the forces that is driving, literally, Labour into bankruptcy. On the issue itself MPs did not feel threatened electorally by, for example,the prospect of Labour being seen as "split" over 42 days. Thus many MPs who opposed it privately, voted for it. And it was carried. It was this, the failure of the left, that put Davis into the position where he had to make his call.

It was one of those moments when someone with influence had to make a stand. In British politics they almost never do. This time Davis did. Surprises like this mix up bedfellows (his campaign was opened by Tony Benn) which makes it all the more necessary to set out clear aims: what are the outcomes we want? There seem to me to be three, achieving the first two depends on the third:

1. To stop 42 days detention without charge from becoming law

2. To reverse the creation of "the database state"

3. To ensure constitutional issues matter in the public mind and become part of popular politics

I will address them in reverse order.

To make constitutional issues popular

When the speaker of the Commons refused to allow David Davis to give his resignation speech to the House he was obliged to walk out of the palace of Westminster to deliver it in the open air. The symbolism was perfect. If you haven't, do watch it. Davis kicked down the door, walked out the bubble and announced the end of parliamentary government as we have known it:
"I had always viewed membership of this House as a noble endeavour, not least because we and our forebears have for centuries fiercely defended the fundamental freedoms of our citizens. Or we did, up until yesterday...

But in truth, 42 days is just one - perhaps the most salient example - of the insidious, surreptitious and relentless erosion of fundamental British freedoms...

This cannot go on, it must be stopped. And for that reason, I feel that today it's incumbent on me to take a stand."
The groan of incredulity that swept political professionals, MPs and reporters alike was a cry of genuine pain, expressed as a condemnation of his vanity, as if they were selfless moderates all. Peter Wilby crafted an excellent summary,
"Davis was guilty of ‘flawed judgment, erratic temperament and unrestrained ego', raged the Times leader. His behaviour was ‘egregiously self-serving', his resignation statement ‘weary rhetoric'. The Guardian's Julian Glover thought Davis's decision the result of ‘some sort of extraordinary brainstorm'. The Telegraph's Iain Martin saw it as ‘monumentally wrong-headed', the Mirror's Kevin Maguire as ‘the mother of all bad political stunts', the Independent's Michael Brown as ‘truly bizarre'. And that was just in the papers that agreed with Davis, at least on being against 42-day detentions. On the pro-42 days side, the Sun's headlines were ‘Davis is a quitter', ‘Who Dares Whinges' (Davis is a former SAS man, geddit?) and ‘Crazy Davis'."
Perhaps the BBC was the worst. Committed to public-service broadcasting, its remit includes education as well as the obligation to inform and entertain. But had it educated the public about the fact that half those arrested under anti-terrorism laws are innocent? Davis was in effect challenging the failure of the media as well as parliament.

Keep reading ...


It is not inherently wrong, but rather healthy, to be proud of the democratic institutions of our country - it is however pure folly to hold as an article of faith the perfection and immaculate nature of these same institutions.

Such blind patriotism, or unshakable pride, in our institutions are as damaging to our constitutions and civil rights, as citizen apathy can be - and actually is - one of the strongest eroding agents of those same cornerstones upon which our democracies are founded upon.

In fact, both attitudes - that of the blind/false patriot and the apathetic citizen - are not only unwitting enablers of those who would transform our countries into authoritarian security states, but furthermore inevitably become tacit supporters of such would-be "leaders".

And, as consequence, they play the roles of de facto accomplices in the gradual disintegration of those very democratic values and institutions for which such pride is derived from to begin with.

Not questioning the actions and decisions of those who govern through our consent constitutes the basest betrayal of those democratic principles that we so loudly proclaim to hold dear.

As I put it a while back:
We The People - this is what it has, and always has been, about. In a democracy, it is the electorate who holds all the keys and guard all the doors - provided that the citizens actually live up to their responsibility.

(...) we are the ones who have broken the "contract between citizens and their government" because, in essence, we thought somehow that our vigilance and implication were optional.

(...) We gave the keys away to the foxes and let them guard the hen house without supervision, because we would not be bothered anymore with our "burdensome" responsibilities as citizens. Hence, we are only reaping what we have sown.
Therefore, we must ever remain vigilant if we are to preserve our democratic values and institutions ... just like we will have to bear the shame of having forsaken them because of intellectual sloth, ignorance, fear, selfishness and the search for instant gratification.

As I am fond of saying: "Living in a democracy is a right and a responsibility. And yes, this responsibility requires effort. But which is better: having your back bent by the effort required to keep on living in a democratic society, or letting leave for complacency and find yourself one day with a back bent under a totalitarian regime (however benevolent it may be)?"

It is high time to remember that it is indeed we who guard all the doors and hold all the keys of our democratic values and institutions.

It is, in the end, up to us to act as the Guardians and Caretakers of our constitutions, our civil rights and our civil liberties.

It has always been up to us.

(Cross-posted from APOV)


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