I live my life in a state of permanent confusion.
After about ten years in this game, I’ve just about mastered the basics; what a Statutory Instrument is, where the toilets are, and that inmates should avoid “fish and chip Friday” like the plague. But Parliament is a confusing place and if the staircases don’t move – both literally and figuratively – in a similar manner to those at Hogwarts, then it feels at times that they do. A suspicion, only vaguely realised, permeates that all is never quite as it seems.
Take for example the recent debate on the Tobin Tax. Its supporters say it’s an easy way of raising revenue on financial transactions, will not materially damage the City, and will fund all manner of nice stuff that the coalition are currently looking at cutting. A magic bullet, if you like. Also, it will take a swipe at the bankers, whose culture of vast bonuses as a reward for taking risks that got us into this mess in the first place, and make them experience the pain that the rest of us – unblessed by vast salaries and fast cars – are feeling as a result. Furthermore, it has the support of Thom Yorke from Radiohead and some chap called 3D, who were both interviewed at the Occupy London Stock Exchange Christmas bash last week (video here).
As no less a sage than Homer Simpson once said, “Rock stars. Is there anything they don’t know?” Although I was slightly unclear about what Mr Yorke was mooting as an alternative to allowing the banks to continue as usual, I think it was something along the lines of, “People are great and should be in charge, bankers are evil, and we should do something. If I was Prime Minister, I would do other stuff. Bangin’ choonz, man!”
I’m not saying that this searing political analysis made me rethink my attitude to the City, because I really don’t know what to think. On the one hand we have the people advocating financial transaction taxes as the solution to all our woes, and on the other we have those saying that it won’t achieve what it claims it will and will disproportionately knacker Britain’s economy in the process, as most the revenue would be come from our financial sector. But ... Thom Yorke, the other bloke, and their choonz say otherwise, as do a considerable number of left-wing blogs and periodicals. I am armed merely with an ill-remembered GCSE in maths. Who to believe?
A couple of months ago, the Backbench Business motion on whether there should be a referendum on Europe. A referendum? What, you want to ask me and my mates what we reckon of Europe? I mean, I’m broadly in favour on the basis that I really like cheese and I’ve heard that the sausages in Berlin are pretty damn tasty, but my knowledge of EU politics is hardly going to trouble Gideon’s special advisors. Particularly concerning is that the debate outside the Chamber seemed to be laced with a certain suspicion of the continentals. As one Twitterer lamented, “Can’t the discussion be raised beyond ‘The French eat PASTRY FOR BREAKFAST’?”
I know that this is my fault. I should spend more of my time squinting over economics textbooks or trying to decipher European high politics. I should spend less time mincing around on the internet and writing articles for this esteemed journal on how MPs are rubbish tweeters or tangentially linking cult films with political engagement. The thing is though, isn’t that what we elect our politicians to do?
The liberty of the ancients (this is a theory by Benjamin Constant, fact fans), was all about direct, participatory democracy where everyone gets involved in the running of a small city-state. By “everyone” we mean men of the correct class, as the time needed to allow them to immerse themselves in matters of state and chin-stroke in contemplation of the big ideas of the day, required an underclass of slaves and women to do the actual productive work.
In a modern state, we’re not so down with the slavery thing and such work needs to be undertaken ourselves. This, inevitably, leads less time to get to the bottom of what is being debated in Brussels so, instead, we elect representatives to undertake these duties on our behalf. That’s not to say that we can’t get involved – or we can’t boot them out if we think they’re making a right mess of it. It’s just that, on a day to day basis, they run the show because it is neither feasible nor desirable that a nation of 70 million people ballots the electorate every time some Delegated Legislation is debated in a back room off the old Ways and Means corridor.
Referendums, then. Really? You want to ask the likes of me or Thom Yorke what we reckon on financial transaction taxation or the options for a future Europe, and Britain’s place within it? If there was ever a case against a more participatory form of democracy, it’s me and Thom.
[video thanks to – I think – Matt Goddard/@JokerMatt]