Friday, February 16, 2007

New Labour's nuclear charade

The High Court ruling that New Labour’s "consultation" on its energy policy was "misleading" and "seriously flawed" is further proof that the mid-19th century system of representative democracy is no longer fit for purpose. As if to confirm this view, Tony Blair’s immediate response was that the nuclear power station programme would go ahead, whatever the judgement said. More and more people are being forced to come to the conclusion that the existing democratic process is a sham and essentially excludes ordinary people from consideration. It was clear from the start what was going on. Blair had already declared that nuclear power was "back on the agenda with a vengeance". The consultation was a charade. There was no supporting evidence on the economics of nuclear power and what the judge called "inadequate" information on waste disposal. In the end, Mr Justice Sullivan ruled that groups were asked to respond to a document where the information was "wholly insufficient for them to make an intelligent choice". As one blogger responding to the judgement put it yesterday: "The truth is out. We, the public, don't matter. The arrogance of modern government knows no bounds. Any ‘consultation’ is a sham, and yesterday's judgement lays that bare. If politicians wonder why they are held in such contempt, that is why. They just mouth fancy soundbites. Debate or reasoned argument? Forget it. Anyone who tries to argue is ridiculed or marginalised." Nuclear power is only the latest in a series of major decisions taken behind closed doors, without reference to parliament, let alone the public. Just think tuition fees, ID cards and, of course, the invasion of Iraq which millions of people marched in opposition to.

Ultimately, Greenpeace’s victory in the courts is symbolic and that’s the question that really needs addressing. Increasingly large numbers of people feel disenfranchised because their opinions and votes count for little. The fact that over 1.3 million motorists have used the Internet to register their opposition to road pricing is as much an expression of frustration with the traditional political process as anything else. They also object to the idea of having a device inside the car which would monitor their movements. Which brings us to yet another example of secret decision-making aimed at strengthening the state’s powers at the expense of ordinary citizens. The Home Office has just agreed to a European Union scheme to set up a network of national crime records across 27 states. Police across the EU will get free access to Britain’s DNA, fingerprint and car registration databases. The exchanges could be up and running as early as next year and might eventually lead to the creation of a single EU-wide database. Britain has by far the largest DNA database in the world – 50 times the size of the French equivalent. When New Labour took office in 1997, it held only 700,000 samples – by 2008, it will hold the samples of some 4.2 million people and is growing by 500,000 a year. Critics point out that the DNA database has effectively become a permanent list of suspects. So the undermining of the democratic process goes hand in hand with the building of an authoritarian state. The case for a new constitutional democratic settlement, one which reflects the aspirations of the powerless majority rather than the privileged economic and political elites, grows stronger by the day. Achieving such a change has to become top priority.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

No comments: