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Monday, April 18, 2011

The Year of Living Carelessly

As May approaches, we thought it would be fitting to look back at the first year of the Coalition government and calmly examine their achievements and popular sentiment towards these and discuss what, if anything, we intend to do to stop the country being blackmailed any further into bonded penury by an out of control financial sector and its placemen in Westminster. Today, our editor-in-chief offers his own personal analysis, verdict and none-too-subtle call for organised and widespread civil disobedience.

Like so very many people nowadays, I am feeling the pinch and sharing the pain in involuntary deference to a belief that this will help the nation's balance sheet. To demonstrate just how dedicated I am to my country and how keen I am to suffer for the nefarious pranks of the financial alchemists who somehow contrived to make half the wealth of the planet disappear overnight and then mysteriously reappear in their accounts, but only after we had made a similar deposit, as well as having to endure the squeeze on already limited household finances, I have a near belly-up small business that not that long ago was coming along quite nicely. Sadly, it depended on a healthy and confident economy for sustenance. 

Exactly how my livelihood evaporating overnight is helping the country's finances has not been explained to my satisfaction. I do hope that the Chancellor isn't making important calculations on the basis of any contribution I am likely to make to G.D.P. If my experiences in any way represent those of others in the private sector, any projections based on our ability to pay taxes and to fill the crater left by Coalition’s attack on the public realm will have to be fairly modest to be even remotely plausible.

Apparently my financial insecurity forms part of an engine of growth and my assets represent a liability. I have to change to accommodate their policies. Overnight, my life became superfluous. Not in the way the farrier’s did when the motor car finally replaced the horse, but because some gentlemen in the City decided that certain aspects of the state weren’t conducive to their own highly-refined interests and that perhaps a government whose cause the City alone supported with some £11m in donations, yea, over 50% of their election fund, might see their way to reciprocating this generosity by letting them snap up what remains of the public sector at a price of their choosing. Notice how neither the purpose nor, indeed, the need for public services has been challenged. What is being debated is who they are for and who should benefit from them. Somehow, adding a profit motive to an already financially stretched service is going to help matters all round. Many find this difficult to believe.  A few are finding it difficult to believe their luck. 

My story is not unique. It is increasingly typical and looks like becoming a norm. Millions are in the same boat or will be very soon. Swingeing cuts in our standard of living with the inevitable consequences for our general well-being are only just beginning and we’re already stretched. We are told that this is unfortunate but, sadly, unavoidable and that, “really, we’re hurting, too.” We are told, without the slightest acknowledgement of any lurking irony, that while reimbursing large corporate investors who were foolish enough to allow a crowd of sociopaths in an over-sized and largely unnecessary financial sector to take their money to the crap tables was somehow right and proper, supporting the poor sods in whose soil they flourish, i.e., pretty well everybody else, would somehow be seen as a sign of profligacy on the part of an over-intrusive state. Furthermore, after this very generously permitted one-off act of public intervention, any further attempt by government to involve itself in the activities of the banks would be considered "interference" and therefore quite inappropriate. In return for the pleasure of bailing them out, our government has been asked to be, and is indeed being, lenient. They are clawing back the state alright, but only where and when it suits.

As if to spite the electorate for keeping the natural party of government out of office for so long, the Westminster coalition is wielding an economic wrecking ball while it creates for its friends not just a haven from tax, but a haven from decency, a pleasure dome where a self-selecting and utterly self-serving elite can bathe in the wealth they have creamed from a tired, battered and war-weary society, insulated from the blind fury of a seething mass of feckless ingrates. The most worrying thing of all, though, is that we appear to be making absolutely no headway in resisting this unprecedented assault on the common weal. Condemnation of nearly every item of policy, enacted or planned, has produced strange bedfellows in right-wing, free market evangelists and progressive tax enthusiasts, but Cameron and Osbourne, with their respective foils, Clegg and Alexander, acknowledge and dismiss dissatisfaction from all quarters in one breath.

One year on from an election that created history by returning, with a functioning majority, a gruesome hybrid of a party whose existence was inconceivable even while we were happily casting our votes, the vast majority of the population are either being squeezed to the limit or are preparing for it. Even by the measures of their precious Market, this government's policies are not only failing, they are storing up mayhem. They will tell us there is no Plan B. There doesn't appear to be a Plan A. If there is a plan of any kind, it is one predicated on our detriment and that violates the very soul of our democracy. 

They appear to be getting away with it. By setting out to antagonise as many distinct but overlapping groups as possible and setting them against each other by playing on what appear to be conflicting objectives amongst what they have the cheek to call self-interest groups, they emulate Thatcher in seeking to divide the opposition. What they fail to acknowledge - even though, rightly or wrongly, it is a self-evident truth - is that regardless of any sub-divisions, the population is united in its loathing for this government in a way that it wasn't with Thatcher. She at least had the wit to keep the middle classes and, significantly, the police onside. This lot are alienating everybody they can lay a hand on, with a few notable exceptions. Many of its own M.Ps are very unhappy, albeit sometimes for reasons completely at odds with those of the moaning masses; some would like to see greater and more permanent dissolution of the state.

They see education as privilege which can bring rich rewards and thereby appeal to a wide constituency when they ask who should pay for it. They avoid asking whether society will be the richer or poorer for cutting education back to the bone and making it available only to the wealthy. They make no attempt to square this assault on future generations with the skills shortage that makes large scale immigration a necessity in a country with rocketing unemployment and a stagnant economy with saturated resources and seemingly not enough to go round for its own. And they make no attempt to square this with an immigration policy which, while thankfully now far removed from the reflex racism of 20 years ago or more, is still riddled with contradictions. They see the unrestricted movement of capital as inviolable but don't extend this courtesy to people. The reconciling of a love of globalisation with the policy-driving opinion that multiculturalism isn't working is not likely to be debated any time soon. I'll take an imperfect multicultural society before the homogenised servitude they have in mind.

The very fabric of our society is under unprecedented and wilful attack, but nothing we have said or done to date has made one whit of a difference. By way of a "concession" to widespread condemnation of his "reforms" from pretty well anybody even tangentially connected to health services in England and Wales, a health minister bent on privatising the N.H.S., the sacred cow of British life, offers apologies for "not getting his message across" and promises a "natural pause" before he cracks on regardless. (Scottish viewers take heed; left unchecked, this will feed across the border soon enough.) Having apparently been the victims of demonic possession, the Lib Dems have shown just what can be done when you take egalitarianism to its logical extreme and treat everybody with equal disdain, including themselves. 

Without seeing any conflict with their anti-state ideology, the Coalition has set itself up as some kind of chimerical intermediary, preliminary to building a new state, one more amenable to their ends and less likely to be troubled by discontent amongst the masses. They have declared themselves immune to scrutiny and their policies and motives beyond reproach. They offer entirely phoney dialogue and stage-managed press stunts where Cameron tries and fails to convince a single mother why it is that she should have to suffer because of the insane profligacy of the banks. If we want to even begin to put the brakes on this lot, we'll need to up our game. 

The last two or three years have seen our sensibilities insulted to the wilder shores by financial gangsters with an improbably customised grasp of what “fair reward” actually means and an unfeasibly bloated sense of self worth, aided and abetted by a small clique of political bankrupts, who claim to have our collective blessing but in fact received precisely 0% of the vote as they weren't actually on the ballot paper. This manifesto was not put to the people.

After an appropriate pause in phoney contemplation of the debacles of Iraq and Afghanistan, the military industrial complex is also flexing its muscles again and actively seeking deployment. Our political masters, novices all, have duly obliged and provided an entirely fresh conflagration in North Africa for reasons nobody now seems to remember. Best of all is that much of it is British made and, damn it, all that expensive ordnance presently levelling a well developed and wealthy country will need replaced. Cruise missiles at £300K a pop. The U.S. dumped a hundred of them on Libya on day one of the No Idea Zone being imposed. Thank you very much. We look forward to your call, which will be recorded for security and training purposes.

Sometimes, it is tempting to defect and seek political asylum in Norway. I’ll invoke human rights legislation on the grounds that my sanity is being threatened and that an oppressive regime is deliberately denying me my right to make a living and enjoy family life and possessions in peace and security. In the last 30 years or so, we have seen quite draconian anti-assembly, dissent-stifling legislation slip on to statute with little or no resistance while people felt generally secure and not minded to protest. We are about to find out just how valuable these rights were and why people fought so hard for them many years ago and could do worse than to concentrate our minds for a moment, lest the little say we have left in how our world is ordered is lost for ever. This time round, the folks in charge won’t be letting go without a fight. They are building one great gated estate for themselves, with salubrious grounds and round the clock security, while we look on helplessly, paralysed with astonishment and disgust.

Our democracy has just been comprehensively mugged. Not content with taking our wallets, the felons took our clothes and our self-respect. This sapping of the will of the people is not simply a consequence of their agenda, it is a primary objective, a prerequisite to the complete subjugation of democracy to absolute plutocracy. There is no need for resort to conspiracy theory here. This is how it is and if evidence were needed, subtract "the possible responses of the markets" from recent governments' agendas and count what's left. This has, of course, always been the way of things but, to the chagrin of the moneyed classes, increasingly over the last century or two, society has been afflicted with built-in mechanisms designed to keep tabs on these impulses; democracy, a free press, the right to assembly and peaceful protest, that sort of thing. Thatcher dealt with the unions within minutes of taking office. This shower have already hand-cuffed the vote and they know a friendly media mogul when they see one. They have many fine plans and, so far, it's all going very nicely and they are weathering everything that is thrown at them without blinking. 

Organised strike action is more or less banned. Co-ordinated action is a criminal offence. What kind of protest is it when you have to ask permission? Spontaneous demonstration has been completely neutered as a political force, largely by dint of an unconvincing concern for public safety and a shamelessly self-referential, capricious, politically illiterate media with absolutely no grasp of proportion or perspective. A naïve assumption that our governments know best and have our best interests at heart hasn’t helped.  

As well as the economic cost of the financial chaos born of the antics of gimlet-eyed spivs while they quite arbitrarily inflated the value of land, bricks and mortar and then played Black Jack with the balance, thereby indebting three generations, we are paying a hefty democratic price with our right to peaceful protest having been diminished to the point of impotence while we weren’t paying attention. The “carnival atmosphere” of the recent demonstration in London was hardly surprising. For all the impact it had, it might as well have been a carnival, except that the floats were pretty naff and the sideshows frankly embarrassing.

If there was to be any hope of the demonstration having any impact on Government thinking, let alone policy, some kind of unifying moment was called for. It didn't need to be the Gettysburg Address, but if rousing oratory has any place left in our politics, this was a missed moment. Tony Benn. Arthur Scargill, even. Jimmy Reid would have been my choice, but he’s deid. What do we get? Ed Miliband, the Great White Hope of the left, with all the punch of a soufflé, comparing the cuts with apartheid in South Africa and proclaiming the cause of resisting them to be on a par with the American civil rights movement. Hang on a minute, lad. Not in my name, as they once said. With enemies like this, the Coalition has little to fear.

Medieval Middle-eastern regimes would have little to fear if a crowd of 250 thousand people, with a raft of legitimate grievances largely shared by 90% of the population, would display the same feeble compliance with authority recently displayed in London and, given as much generally sympathetic media coverage as it wanted, presented its argument so abysmally. With weary inevitability, to the extent that it is always widely predicted, and with suspiciously detailed accuracy,  too, “trouble flared” and a group of inebriated students smashing a few plates in a deli was trumpeted as “unrest” worthy of calling in the cavalry to suppress.

In yet another assault on our already tenuous wits, the minute scale of the trouble dominated headlines. The less trouble there is at a demonstration, the more this absence of incident eclipses the main event. If there is no trouble, we are taken live to where it wasn't happening and told at length of what didn't happen with a brief outline as to why people were unhappy. People who have just lost their jobs are asked how they feel and ministers explain why it is they have to feel that way to 21 year-old journalists who know diddly squat and that is it. Every protest is flagged up months in advance to the point where its purpose and any potency it has are diluted and dissipate into the ether to the extent that the demonstration doesn't even qualify as a gesture, just an empty pose. As if we hadn’t been insulted enough, this is then cited as an argument for just why the economy needs its throat slit; the alternative is anarchy. Fortnum & Mason may seem like nothing, old chap, but it’ll be Harrods and the Garrick Club next, you mark my word.  

After M.P’s treating the expenses system like a company credit card, bankers just taking the piss and a government now intent on punishing 90% of the population for the pleasure of bailing the bastards out, was that the nearest the British could get to outrage? In my application for asylum, I’ll cite the beaten and broken back of the collective will of my oppressed fellow citizens.     

No matter how reasonably presented, any argument with this hectoring anti-State ideology and the economically questionable policies it has seen enacted is dismissed out of hand with dire warnings of what would happen if the City of London isn’t placated and kept sweet. This is an affront to any notions of democracy: we do not get to vote for the City of London. If their grasp of just what “representative government” means is so far removed from ours, it is not just perfectly reasonable but absolutely necessary to question the very legality of this government, not just its democratic legitimacy. While the whole country was stunned to the point of concussion in nauseated disbelief at the brazen volte face of the Lib Dems, hitherto widely perceived to represent the last remnants of plausible socialism in British politics, one hugely significant constitutional change effectively bypassed Parliament in the blink of an eye last May.

Since time immemorial, the parliamentary vote has been based on a simple majority of one. In one of the most brazen examples of abusing office for party political purposes imaginable, the infant Coalition decided that for votes of confidence alone, the margin had to be 55% to 45%. If the Lib Dems walk out, they will only be able to muster 53%. Why 55%? Just enough wriggle room in case a few of Tories decide to jump ship. Nobody was consulted over this. Long before parliament had opened, we were presented with a fait accompli. There is only one way for a sitting government to ensure victory in a confidence vote and that is to have the endorsement of the people in the form of a legitimate and sufficient working majority. It's called a democratic mandate. You either have one or you don't. Offer the change as a manifesto policy, if you dare, but before the plebiscite, not afterwards as an antidote to democracy having failed to deliver the desired result. The Conservatives' insistence on the absolute necessity of a working majority can be dismissed out of hand by one very simple truth; the electorate didn't give them one. The vote gave them a limited mandate. These things happen. Nobody can question the result of the election, nor the Conservatives' right to from a government, but we are entitled to take issue with the way this has been manipulated by the Tories and guaranteed by the Lib Dems to produce a government nobody wanted. Democracy has to be all or nothing. An appalling precedent has just been set.  

Somehow, they have been allowed completely off the hook by their line that this was a government of national unity fighting off the forces of hell itself and that stability for its own sake transcended all other considerations.  Five minutes into office and they unilaterally barricaded themselves against democracy by executive decree. The sheer speed and efficiency with which the deal was struck and the troublesome parliamentary arithmetic taken care of makes the suggestion that this was an entirely spontaneous meeting of minds that took everybody by surprise hard to swallow.  This was a stitch up. The Tories might not have wanted this, but they had planned for it. The Lib Dems, quite foolishly, had prayed for it, believing that they could hold whoever won to ransom but ending up hostages to their own lack of a genuine political purpose. The only thing that makes the role of junior partner in a coalition viable is ultimate recourse to the power to bring down the government. This card can't be overplayed, but they signed it away for no consideration.

The Law Lords and constitutional lawyers saw nothing wrong with this. Not so much as a raised eyebrow. A column or two in the Guardian and that was about it. Job done. You can almost picture the glee on the Torys’ faces when they saw just how readily they managed to whip up a panic and sneak this through under our noses while telling everybody that the sky was falling and that only they could save us and that there wasn't time for idle debate. Not only did they have a working majority, even their minority was now safe. Why and how the Lib Dems agreed to this one point defies all inquiry. While an eye for expedience seems to be their only real purpose in life, it is difficult to imagine how this could have been presented to them as remotely palatable, let alone desirable.

You’d have thought that for taking the role of political gimps, the already sealed guarantee of catastrophic collapse as a party and watching helplessly as an angry public started erecting guillotines in every public place, they’d at least have been allowed the rules of the House as collateral. What else could they possibly have to lose? This might go down as one of the most astonishing acts of voluntary political euthanasia ever performed. It has turned the good guys of British politics into a toxic brand and their few remaining supporters into sympathisers and collaborators. We are about to find out in Scotland if they may have achieved something that was inconceivable a year ago and are now actually less popular than the Tories. Only those who couldn't point to Scotland on a map could fail to grasp just what this would say. As their Coalition partners have learned, the Scots are quick to react and slow to forget.

Even if it was a consensual act, its depravity sustains. A government has no right turning half a millennium or more of precedent, upon which our albeit unwritten constitution is largely founded, completely on its head, after an election, simply to secure its own survival. If this happened anywhere else, we would be muttering about attacks on democracy and summoning ambassadors to Downing Street to express our concern. 

This change to parliamentary law was not decided in the House. It was decided before any government had even been formed. In the euphoria of this extraordinary love-in between such an apparently ill-matched and ill-met couple, it became law by parliamentary formality. There was no green paper let alone a white one. Not even a consultation period or committee stage. Any formalities were dealt with after the fact.  The constitutional implication is alarming as it diminishes our democratic franchise; however one looks at it, our collective ability to unseat a Government has been significantly curtailed. The threshold for removing a sitting government has been raised by 30 seats with no debate. 

The franchise was eroded further by the, again, completely unilateral decision that this would be a five year parliament come what may. The Coalition functions as a party, but seems unburdened by the concomitant restrictions that traditionally go with this luxury when one assumes office, which roughly distil down to recognising the boundaries between party and government, government & power, power and state. They have crossed all three by some distance. They are now claiming the right to fix the term of parliament on the basis of a rule they just dreamt up for themselves out with any legal context. Not only should a vote of no confidence require a simple majority of one, the timing of it cannot be pre-determined and should not be effectively banished as a democratic tool for the term of a parliament. To do so undermines the foundation of parliamentary process and is anathema to democracy.   

So, instead of a democratically elected and representative government, we have a legally dubious coalition comprising two very narrow self-interest groups, one consisting mainly of authoritarian, venal, plutocratic ideologues, the other of political sluts and fall guys, who unilaterally changed the rules after an election to secure a result nobody voted for. The bankers have provided a boundless savannah on which our opprobrium can run free and we shouldn’t let the buggers out of our sights, but not nearly enough attention is being paid to the political conjuring tricks performed in order for them to get a compliant government.

What makes the present government so very different from any predecessor is that, uniquely, they have no expectation of a second term. They don’t even pretend to desire one. Not one cabinet member seems remotely concerned that even being in opposition after the next election is a fading hope and that even the most senior members of the executive risk losing their seats. This seems odd for a group of Oxbridge illuminati with such noble political ambitions. We are perhaps too quick to accuse our politicians of electioneering while carrying out their elected duties. At least this demonstrates political ambition, something which necessitates maintaining the support of the electorate, thereby tempering their behaviour. We should be more worried when they don't appear to have even the inclination to be re-elected. They see no personal consequences from electoral anihilation. They have hired the state for one term only. Their lack of genuine political ambition suggests a contempt for any political tradition and, by extension, for any political institution. Such attitudes should bar them from office. Deliberately undermining and challenging the authority of the state used to be known as sedition. Doing so from within was called treason.

Anybody would think they simply wanted to be in office long enough to steady the ship of state on a course that suited, and that along the way they might forge sufficient mutually beneficial friendships that losing a tiresome chore of a job that pays barely a pittance and brings nothing but grief will be a welcome and keenly awaited release. These people are just marking time until 2015. By then, they'll have achieved what they set out to do. I like my politicians to have loftier ambitions and to be prepared to put their personal reputations on the line, lest they make a botch of things. In the days when politics was a calling rather than a career move, this was called accountability and, whisper it, a matter of honour. This lot are running up a substantial slate which is being underwritten with our livelihoods regardless of their performance. What we have witnessed amounts to a de facto coup d’etat.

As if this weren’t bad enough, there is now a risk that we might have an electoral system designed specifically to propel small third-placed parties into government. The Lib Dems represent a first in party political history, perhaps anywhere, in that their stated aim in any election, be it Westminster, Holyrood or Cardiff, is to come third. They plan with this eventuality in mind and no more. They are a party born of schism and designed for no purpose other than to return to parliament people who couldn't find a political home anywhere else. They staked a claim to a spurious middle ground that was somehow neither capitalism nor socialism. This may have existed for a while in the mid 80s and early 90s, but it was merely a waste-ground evacuated by a rabid right and a loony left. As market economics became the only show in town, this space was inundated and the Lib Dems, rather than offering the best of all possible worlds by somehow reconciling two fundamentally opposing views of how the state should operate, were set adrift on a political sea with no discernable borders and what little dry land remained occupied to overcrowding. All they have done since then is complain because the electoral system wasn't giving them a fair crack of the whip. While concentrating on this one issue, they have forgotten what they would actually do with it if they had it. The answer appears to be, "whatever we are told."

Courtesy of yet more abuse of the word fairness, first passed the post would be replaced with third passed the post in the name of even more fairness. What the electoral reformers refuse to entertain is that small parties fail to make office not because of shortcomings in the electoral process, but precisely because it has served its purpose. Most people either don’t like or aren’t interested in them. Their not reaching office is not a result of conspiracy, but of democratic will made manifest through the ballot box. They aren't represented because they aren't sufficiently representative of a significant enough number of people. When they reach this threshold, something they need to argue for by the same rules as anybody else, the existing system will recognise them. Given that a seat has to go to somebody, to artificially rig this process specifically to make it easier for failed candidates is both absurd and an abomination. It is yet one more perversion of a  democracy already under threat from unelected and unchallenged forces in big finance and a cabal of political parvenus.

A few questions, mostly in the same colour scheme, have been asked over and over since the first realisation that the banks were up to no good, through the expenses scandal – which in reality, amounted to about £1.5 million a year, i.e., about what an investment banker believes is a good reflection of the market rate for his supernatural skills – to the present when, despite being completely propped up by the state, the bankers are still helping themselves with impunity. What won’t we tolerate? When do we stop and shout with one voice, “Enough”? Are we just going to let them horse on and treat society as a cash cow for a few? How many lies will we buy?

Many in the banking sector will rebuff any polite request for restraint in their habits by saying that only some banks were bailed out and that the rest were private companies who could do what they liked. Most mainstream commentators seem to have swallowed this and it is parroted as unimpeachable fact, ergo, end of argument. This is, as they say, utter bullshit. If a trillion pounds hadn’t been pumped into the British banking system, the whole show was over and they know it. It wasn’t just individual banks who were saved. The entire sector was resuscitated. It needs reminded of this and soon. They are sitting there, writing themselves cheques for millions of pounds, stretching our patience to the limit, with the unmitigated nerve to dismiss any admonishment by citing a lack of regulation and we are taking this?

While it may be morally reprehensible and repugnant in every way, it isn’t altogether surprising that brutish, odious dictatorships the world o’er look to the West, particularly Britain  and the U.S., for the training, expertise and even the very tools of state repression. They look to us and see a people who fought for democracy and then gave up on it. To them this is a clinching argument against it. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be and people get bored with it.

They see a people who have the freedom to express and act on dissent, but who refuse to avail themselves of this and accept, in good grace and with only lip service to disapproval, outrages being committed in their names in foreign lands and a financial elite helping themselves from the public purse in a way psychotic sub-Saharan despots could only dream of. By the standards of even a generation ago, a lot of what used to be considered, at best, ungentlemanly and probably corrupt behaviour has been stripped of all taboo and decriminalised and we don’t seem to mind. The British and Americans clearly know how to strangle dissent at birth in developed countries with educated populaces and how to enslave and fleece them, day in, day out, for ever. Need evidence? This warrants and can stand frequent repetition; the bankers are still taking multi-million pound bonuses and paying no attention whatsoever to our gob-smacked indignation. There behaviour is so outrageous that it doesn't take much imagination to see why some might view it as provocation and an open invite to confrontation. People come to blows over much less, yet the bankers, vastly outnumbered, seem unperturbed. We should be perturbed by their confidence. It suggests that they know they aren't going to be touched.

Who better to train and arm the Bahraini and Saudi governments, to mention but two, to keep in check largely uneducated and economically exiled people anxious to hang on to what little they have? There is something darkly comic in the highly-qualified platitudes that spout forth from William Hague and his ilk on the "need for democratic change in the Middle-east." It’s not so much that they are insincere and have vested interests in mind – though, they are and do - but that they don’t appear to have a clue what line to take. Any debate trips over dirty great Saudi-shaped contradictions before it even starts, so they steer clear of saying anything illuminating at all. They are conducting a war - guns, tanks and planes all bombing one geographically and politically distinct country looks awfully like a war to me  – but they don’t seem to have any opinion on how it should be prosecuted nor, indeed, why. The most worrying thing of all, though, is that nobody seems too bothered about this. War has become ambience to us. Nobody can remember when we weren’t last involved in military conflict somewhere or other. Even if not fighting, more often than not, the cream of British design and craftsmanship is right there at the business end of the front line.

If they equivocated any more they'd forget their names, but they are wise to watch their words. They are not too keen on dissent either. It could quite easily be argued that the British Government is amongst the least tolerant in the developed world. An unruly mob of 20 students armed with nothing more substantial than mobile phones and an overweening sense of entitlement is considered sufficient provocation for this government to call out 500 riot police.

It’s little wonder our government watch what they say when demonstrators are being shot in Bahrain. How, exactly, might they respond if Julian, Crispin, Adrian and pals, instead of smoking joints in a university chancellor's office and daringly dropping toilet rolls out of windows, were storming around central London in broad daylight in pick-ups, firing AK 47s with manic abandon while screaming "Alluhah Akbar!!”, moreover, without even the courtesy of giving the authorities 4 weeks written notice of their intention to hold a spontaneous protest or notifying them of their every last movement, minute by minute, in text, voice and video, courtesy of the voluntary electronic-tagging facilities so kindly provided by Facebook and Twitter?

A nice touch, this one. Just imagine what Mao or Stalin could have done with this stuff. Boy oh boy. Just as tens of millions had to re-train and rethink their lives in the cold dawn of post–industrial Britain, since the demise of the Cold War, our spooks have had to find new ways to occupy themselves. What an utterly marvellous ruse; a political contraceptive that allows the citizenry the brief thrill of active dissent, but without conceiving a single coherent idea. Everybody is gleefully signing up to this. While simultaneously providing free product placement other businesses would give their eye teeth for, the media spare no effort to highlight the supposed seditious utility lurking within social networking. The “Facebook and Twitter Revolutions” in Egypt and Tunisia that precipitated a domino effect and overnight turned the entire region into one big happy family of liberal social democracies demonstrated just how useful these marvels were as instruments of democratic progress, but this hasn’t plugged the myth. Many young people, the ones who can make a difference, now believe that if they want to challenge the government all they have to do is log in. This saves a hell of a lot of leg work on the part of the authorities. They don’t have to waste time looking for people when G.P.S. is doing it for them.

Viva la revolution. Philosophers, writers and political reformers, from Adam Smith to Rabbie Burns to Keir Hardie, would have been sorely unimpressed that progress had come to this. Orwell will be wondering why he bothered. I somehow doubt he imagined, for one minute, that the scope for near total surveillance by the State would not only come about without any resistance, but would actually be so eagerly lapped up that people were prepared to ship seemingly limitless amounts of money and devote ever increasing chunks of their time complying with its every intrusive protocol.

We should be more careful with our scorn the next time we see the French out on the streets over a seemingly minor grievance concerning the latest Government policy. We should perhaps take note and consider what is happening and why. We should ask where we would be if, at many critical junctures in our history, people hadn’t been prepared to call time on a government they detest using sheer weight of numbers as a disincentive to any ideas of suppression by force.

When the French go out on the street, the headline story is not the issue. What they are doing is reminding government who’s in charge and who owns what. They tell their governments that if a policy is clearly not designed with the interests of the people as an over-arching imperative, then they have to think again. Of course, in France, sovereignty rests with the people. Here it rests with the crown and its representatives. The French are citizens. We are subjects of the crown. This may seem a trifle to some, but it underpins a mindset that defaults to apathy in the face of onslaught from the state. It should not be so in a modern country. The Coalition government saw absolutely no intellectual or political problem in fundamentally weakening the hand of the people in the electing of governments when they changed the rules on votes of confidence. Perhaps we should see just how amenable they are to further radical constitutional change, by way of balancing their slight of hand last May, and set about reclaiming sovereignty for the people and redeploying some of the less necessary amongst the permanent civil service to draft mechanisms for ensuring this is upheld in law.

We are only beginning to feel the economic wrath coming our way. This government isn’t even good at the game of market economics. One of the first rules of monetarism is not to spook the markets, but every purchase now carries a financial health warning. This lot have scared everybody witless and quite unnecessarily. Goods and services have stopped moving because people aren’t buying; the accumulator effect in reverse, or deflation, the precursor to depression.

We are being held to ransom by a few thousand billionaires worldwide who call the shots. This is no longer a democracy in any meaningful sense of the word, inasmuch as we have absolutely no facility to call to account the chief controlling influences on our affairs. We need to reclaim our sovereignty and, with this, reclaim control of our state by means of legitimate government whose subservience to the popular will is enshrined in law, responsible and accountable to the people only. We may have to fight for it, though, and this means more than setting up a Facebook page.

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