If you’re anything at all like me, in your formative years there will have been a few moments that were so startling, they’ll be lodged in your brain forever.
One such moment in my relative youth was hearing the erudite, now late, Ludovic Kennedy declare that, in his opinion, parliamentary debate was a complete and utter waste of time. What!? His argument went along these lines: in our parliamentary system there is almost always a clear majority and, debate as much and as long as you like, all that will ultimately happen is that the ruling party out-votes all other parties and goes ahead with whatever dastardly plan it had before the debate. Where did the debate get you? Nowhere! Well, actually, it wasted a lot of time, effort and probably money.
Thinks: Good grief, the man has a point. This was shocking, my first realization that democracy may not quite be all that I had been led to believe.
I was never politically motivated in my youth but, perhaps inevitably, have become more so as my years advanced. Perish the thought but I even started coming to some disturbing conclusions of my own as to where our so-called democratic process falls down.
- Yes, we can vote but, other than in referenda, not for individual policies; we must vote for one of three different packages of policies (because, ignoring the utterly loony fringe, there are three parties). Generally, Joe Public will be voting for a good chunk of policies with which he doesn’t agree just because they were included in his “best fit” package of policies.
- Once voted in, a government tends to do exactly as it wants hiding behind the all-too-frequently used mantra of, “we have a mandate from the people”. Bad argument: even if the measure in question was mentioned in the manifesto, see #1.
- Yes, in theory we can vote them out … but only after 4 –5 years of their having done untold damage.
- In exercising our democratic right, when wanting to vote one set of incompetents out, we are left only with the choice of the worse imbeciles that we rejected in the first place.
And so it goes round and round.
Just in case anyone still thinks that our form of democracy works, here’s a world first for a formerly apolitical animal.
I am extremely concerned about what appears to be an unshakable desire by our current government to sell off our forests into private ownership. I love wildlife, nature and the ability to roam freely through woodland which is managed for the benefit of the environment and to maintain biodiversity. I have nightmarish visions of Center Parcs developments springing up in every remaining wild space. Just look at the disaster that’s called Lands End to see what evils commercial ownership can visit upon erstwhile magnificent wild spaces.
So, I signed a petition and, as requested by the petitioners, took the unprecedented step of emailing my local MP. After all, we should make our feelings known in a democracy, right? The MP was elected to represent his constituents, right? He should vote according to our wishes, shouldn’t he?
Here’s my email to Andrew Selous, Conservative MP for SW Bedfordshire:
As a keen nature enthusiast, I am mortified to hear about my government’s plans to sell off our national forests. Currently, our forests are maintained sympathetically as an irreplaceable resource to the benefit of wildlife and also as a valuable and free recreational resource available to all our public. In my view, private profiteering could do nothing but irreparable harm, not only to our flora and fauna, but also to sections of the public who might well be denied access.
We must protect the biodiversity of and access to our forests for generations to come. Once lost, the forests would be lost forever. Such a loss would be nothing short of catastrophic.
I implore you to vote against any measures that pave the way, and I use that phrase noting a certain irony, for any reduction in this already too rare resource.
Only one day later, here is his response to me:
Thank you for contacting me regarding your concerns about government proposals in respect of selling off Forestry Commission woodland and forests.
I can confirm that I have written on your behalf to Caroline Spelman MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to see what the arrangements will be to include greater access for the public to have access to forests and woodland than the Forestry Commission allows at present.
I will be back in contact with you as soon as a reply is received.
With very best wishes,
[The typos are not mine, BTW.] I’ve underlined the relevant passage in the response. This does not respond to my concerns. Did I ask for greater access to forestry land? No! Does it answer any of my stated concerns? No! What I said was, that the land should be maintained for flora and fauna biodiversity and that land which is currently freely accessible to the public should continue so to be. This response is the email equivalent of an interview sound bite. There is no mention of his support or otherwise of the proposals, so I assume he’ll simply be voting along party lines (Ludovic Kennedy’s point again). Given the speed of response, I’d cynically suggest that he may have already posed his different and, to me, irrelevant question before receiving my email.
[Aside: Given that no politician ever answers the question they were posed, I still don’t understand why the likes of BBC Radio Four presenters insist on constantly wasting their breath interviewing them at all.]
I stop short of knocking our version of democracy because I can’t think of anything better – apart, maybe, from the completely impossible-to-find benign dictatorship. We are fortunate to be given a vote, occasionally, granted access to our elected representatives and to be allowed to voice our opinion to them. Just let’s not get carried away imagining that anyone will take any notice or that our opinions will make a blind bit of difference.
We have to do what we can. If you feel strongly enough, please join in by adding your name to the petition to save our forests.