Friday, November 16, 2012

Our sham democracy needs replacing - and soon

If you are looking around for arguments that boost the case for creating a real political and economic democracy in place of the sham one we live under, then this week has seen them piled one on top of the other.

How about the inability of MPs on the Commons public accounts committee (PAC) to get to grips with the failure of global corporations operating in Britain to pay tax on their profits? Senior executives from Amazon, Starbucks and Google were accused of secretly hiding their profits in tax havens when they appeared before MPs.

MPs admitted that a director from Amazon was “deliberately evasive” about the company’s operations. And when a Starbucks executive told MPs that the coffee chain made no profits in Britain, MPs found the story too incredible for words.

Ultimately, however, PAC members were up against the law. Google operates in Ireland and Bermuda because they offer attractive tax rates. "Like any company you play by the rules [and] manage costs efficiently to offer fair value to shareholders," said executive Matt Brittin.

In response to that, all Margaret Hodge, the PAC chair, could do was to accuse the corporations of “immoral behaviour”. But there’s no morality and certainly no democracy involved here. The bottom line is all that counts. The state created the rules to benefit global corporations and these are what they play by.

Here are two more examples from today that add to the case for change. The same PAC was back in action this morning, reporting that taxpayers were unlikely to get back any of the £66 billion spent on shares in the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds when they were bailed out four years ago.

That’s the equivalent of about a year’s spending on education by local authorities who have been ordered to cut their budgets by 25%. So the taxpayer is left with a load of worthless shares while the bankers continue to pay out record bonuses to themselves. Nice.

Finally, there’s the record low turn-out for the elections for police commissioners which were held yesterday. Clearly, the vast majority of voters find participation in such elections a waste of time. And they are right. There are already local police authorities that are made up of assorted councillors and others. Why add another tier of bureaucracy?

When you add to this the imposition of the burden of the economic crisis – a crisis they did not create – on the backs of ordinary working people, you have to conclude that the current system is “undemocratic and unjust”.

This truth, contained in the initial statement adopted by the Occupy London general assembly at St Paul’s a year ago, embraces all the institutions of rule that make up the British state/political system.

The evidence is that that this system of rule favours the 1% in a variety of ways and actions and, therefore, cannot be considered democratic in the true sense and meaning of the term. Virtually every element of the establishment is now seen as exposed and corrupt. People are searching for alternatives and answers.

We should not accept that this state/political system is the end of history in so far as the story of democracy is concerned. The time is right historically to consider what a real democracy would and could look like.

To this end, we appeal to all those who support democratic change to work together to develop an Agreement of the People for the 21st century in the spirit of the Levellers who fought for democracy during the English Revolution of the 1640s.

A new Agreement should form the basis of a new constitutional settlement that favours the presently powerless majority. It should propose new forms of democratic decision-making that go beyond representation.

Seven organisations are supporting the project to create and fight for a new Agreement of the People which gets under way in London tomorrow. Be there if you can.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

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