Castration of our democracy

LAST week in this slot I voiced the possibly- seditious thought that British politicians, while often extolling democratic values, urging less enlightened nations to adopt them and offering help to enable them to do so, don’t really like democracy.

I went further and suggested that, as often as not, political leaders strive to frustrate democracy as much as possible. They like us to know only what they want us to know.

They dislike any but the dimmest spotlight on what they do.

Almost on cue, Jack Straw, former Labour Home Secretary, argued that the Freedom of Information Act should be tightened to restrict the flow of information. He revealed that because of the Act, minutes are now sometimes not taken of high level Government meetings. There’s fear that “horrific detail”

of ministers’ “streams of consciousness”

might emerge.

Mr Straw’s remarks seem to confirm what we have always known – that what ministers say in private, and probably how they say it, is often very different from what they say in public. Their real spontaneous thoughts and reactions must be kept from us. This is democracy in action.

Another current example, worth the attention of any would-be democracy, is the Government’s denial of demands, including from some of its own MPs, for a debate on the allocation of another £10bn to the International Monetary Fund.

The refusal can be justified because the extra amount only brings the total up to the £40bn limit previously agreed by Parliament.

But it was never envisaged that the cash might be used to prop up the failing euro, which looks likely. In this context the loan deserves scrutiny, but the Government chooses to push it through unchallenged on a technicality.

The big mistake of all our governments, of course, is to believe that the public either doesn’t notice the castrating of democracy and/or doesn’t care. We do – which explains why millions now don’t bother to vote. The hinted response is to force us to vote. Perish the possibility that we might be given a democracy that encourages more to vote.

APHOTOGRAPH in the sports pages of a Sunday newspaper showed what I at first took to be a dark-clothed cricket outfielder throwing in during a floodlit match. The image was of a protester flinging some object during a night-time riot against the Bahrain Grand Prix. Says everything about the destruction of the once loveliest of games.

AEWLY-DISCOVERED letter by a Hawaiian prince reveals that he and his brother surfed at Bridlington in 1890. Though this is believed to have been the first recorded instance of surfing in Britain, the first Tyke, indeed the first Englishman, to witness the spectacle beat those present that day by more than a century. In 1778, a plainly-astonished Captain James Cook described in his journal how Hawaiians commonly practised this “very dangerous diversion”.

He wrote: “It sends them in with astonishing velocity. The great art is to guide the plank so as always to keep in proper direction on top of the swell and as it alters direction.

I did not conceive it possible but that some of them must be dashed against the sharp rocks, but just before they reach the shore they quit their plank and dive under.

“By suchlike exercises these men may be said to be almost amphibious.”

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