Monday, 18 April 2011

British politics, part two (BSDA #14)

Today - it's the crazy bit. Let's talk about the ridiculous elements of British democracy, most of which are characterised by their lack of democracy. We begin in the upper house of our national parliament, where, upon the red seats, in their ermine robes, our Lords carry out their work.

There are 792 of them currently, making the UK one of the few countries in the world to have more members in the upper house than in the lower. What are they doing there?, I hear you mumble disinterestedly. Well, I say, with gumption, 90 of them are there merely by who their fathers were. The hereditary peers of the land, of whom there are about 900, elect their ninety representatives to the house, which, in a peculiarly British sense, makes them the most democratically legitimate of  all the members. Only here.... Secondly, 26 of the lords are not lords at all, but bishops, the most senior within the Church of England. What are they doing there? Well, good question. There is no separation of church and state in the UK, meaning this unwelcome invasion into politics by members of a single religion, and also explaining why the odious national anthem contains reference to God. (For an atheist, republican and pacifist, my anthem is borderline offensive. I think the only word I relate to in it is "happy". And I'm that precious little, as well.) Finally, the majority of the Lords are simply chosen by the party leaders, who twice-yearly fill the house with their largest donors, most successful party apparatchiks and most irritating failed MPs. Ironically, this ramshackle bunch actually do a damn good job of preventing the occasional lunacies of government policies from becoming law, though they are ultimately subservient to the lower house due to the Parliament Act of 1911. This gatekeeping job means the Lords are actually more respected than the Commons by the vast majority of the population. Only here....

So that's that done. The monarchy, as you are no doubt aware, is an expensive joke. While the Queen's job as figurehead is undoubtably important, the idea of selecting a head of state based on whose womb they came out of is as repugnant as it is outdated. Secondly, the fact of the monarchy, far from being a safeguard on insanity, actually worsens democracy. The Royal Prerogative refers to actions which are consitutionally carried out by the monarch alone, which in this day and age means at the total whim of the prime minister. These include DECLARING WAR. Yes, the PM can, if he or she so desires, and they often do, declare war on another country without asking parliament at all. And they say the system works....

Finally, let's explore the minefield of devolution. As you know, the UK is made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It may interest you to know that the latter three all have their own parliaments, national, proportionally elected, with powers over health, education and the like, while England does not, having to make do with the UK parliament, which of course has members from all four nations. Isn't that blatantly unfair?, I hear you scream through gritted teeth. Well, yes. In an attempt to cool the flames of Scottish and Welsh independence, and continue the peace process in NI, the last Labour government introduced these devolved parliaments, and, in a spirit of progressivism, made them proportionally elected (24th, guys!) and fair. Why is this a problem? Well, back when Labour introduced university tuition fees in England, the parliamentary vote was so tight, only a 20 vote majority, that it wouldn't have passed without the votes of Scottish MPs, whose own constituents WERE NOT AFFECTED thanks to their devolved parliament continuing to fund their students through university. MAHHH! Doesn't that make you insane? It does me.

Three examples of sham democracy there, folks. Join me again, probably on Saturday, when I'll maybe tell you what I have been  (will have had been?) doing this week, and will certainly review The Impossible Astronaut. For I am a Whovian. Follow, twitter, blah blah, OK zzzzz.

EDIT: Also someone vote on the damn poll, willya? Kthanxbai.

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