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Monday, April 16, 2007

So, you want to live in a democracy?

This piece of mine appeared in Saturday's Morning Star.

After an absence of thirty years, America’s finest detective finally returned to British television screens last summer. The decision of the BBC to re-screen several episodes of the classic 1970s whodunit series Ellery Queen, with Jim Hutton as the deceptively absent minded sleuth was a cause for unmitigated celebration.

Ellery Queen was a great programme not just on account of its ingenious plots and fine acting, or for its glorious recreation of late 1940s New York, but for the revolutionary way the audience was kept fully involved in proceedings. Ten minutes from the end of each episode, Hutton would turn to the camera and ask us, the viewers, if we had worked out "whodunnit". More often than not we hadn’t. Ellery Queen mysteries were always hard to solve, even if all the clues had been up there on the screen before our very eyes, but the point was that we were consulted.

Unlike much of television today, Ellery Queen was a programme which didn't treat us like idiots, but as reasoned, intelligent human beings.

How different to our political masters in the so called "democratic world".

Rather than consulting us, the people, and acting in our interests as ought to happen in a democracy, our politicians treat us with contempt and pander only to the interests of global capital. One opinion poll after another shows majority public support for the renationalisation of the railways, yet neither of our two main political parties went into the last election promising any change in the status quo. A clear majority also want to see British troops withdrawn from Iraq, yet again, both of our leading parties continue to support the occupation. The reintroduction of a new top rate of income tax, caps on executive pay and the end to the creeping privatisation of the NHS are other popular policies which Britain's political elite won't even countenance. There are many others.

The type of democracy which the political elite in Britain, the US and Brussels favour is not the dictionary definition of 'rule of the people', but a much more restricted form which can only be described as 'Henry Ford democracy'. The famous American automobile manufacturer said his customers could have any colour car they liked so long as it was black: Henry Ford democrats tell us we can elect any government we like, so long as it's neo-liberal and supports the New World Order.

Woe betide the people if they vote for parties Fordian democrats deem to be "off limits". For having the temerity to elect Hamas, Palestinians were punished with suspension of aid. Fordian democracy was again illustrated in the peevish US and EU reaction to January's elections in Serbia. Despite European and US exhortations, the Serbs voted "the wrong way" by making the anti-Nato, EU-sceptic Radicals the largest party in the new parliament. Straight away, Serbs were told that 'the international community' would not accept a government in which the country's most popular party played a role. Just how democratic is that?

Instead of allowing the disciples of Henry Ford to set the agenda, the left ought to be going on the offensive. Socialists have nothing to fear about the move to a more direct, consultative democracy: it's the sham Fordian democrats who should be worried. The first step in building a genuine democracy, as opposed to the current mutation, is root and branch economic reform, a process which Hugo Chavez is currently undertaking in Venezuela. Whoever holds economic power holds political power, so an extension of public ownership and measures to redistribute wealth are essential prerequisites.

Neo-liberalism is inconsistent with democracy as it leads to political power being transferred from the ballot box to the wallet, which is why Henry Ford democrats insist on countries running "market economies". Only when an unelected chairman of a multinational company has no greater influence in the political process than you or I, can we even begin to label our country "democratic".

Of course, democratising Britain doesn't mean that we, the people, will always get decisions right in the same way that we don't always work out who the murderer is in Ellery Queen. But the main thing is that in a country which calls itself a democracy, it's the majority and not a tiny unrepresentative, warmongering elite who should be making the calls.

Adolf Hitler was against democracy because he thought it would inevitably lead to socialism. He was right. It's time for some Ellery Queen politics.

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