ISSUES,INSIGHTS AND COLOURFUL MOMENTS-FROM THE DESK OF AN ENGLISH AUTHOR.
September 2020. Freedom Also Has A History.
Given my July Blog, you might be tempted to ask “What then do I see as the problem with Democracy?” The easy answer would be “There’s nothing wrong with Democracy, only the people who think there is!” As there are quite a few of them trying their hardest to ‘square the circle’, instead of ‘throwing my cap in the ring’ of an impossible conundrum, I thought I’d take a step back and look at the realities of all this fuss. Not least, I may add, because Italy has a lot more to do with the Democracy as we know it than Greece. I also happen to think, too many people have forgotten where we are in the scale of things. A little focus will serve the double purpose of reminding ourselves how close we always are to losing it. The template of our freedom will not be found in China or Russia, nor in people who wish to dispose of Kith, and Kin, to European agencies.
Here then are my few pennies worth.
Very few give even a backward glance at the type of government they live under, just taking it for granted. Recently, with the United Kingdom regaining a sense of individuality, freed from the creeping oppression of an authoritarian European Union, the matter of a political unit or Demos – a term that signifies the body of the populace, one where the sovereign power resides in the people, exercised either directly, or through their elected representatives - has once again become prominent. The word ‘sovereign’ is of particular moment, given so many people want to repudiate it, because the meaning is “supreme or ultimate” power. There is nothing higher that ‘sovereign’, not organization or law, international or otherwise, a practice, thousands of years old, where in modern times Parliament makes the laws of the land, or passes modifications or rebuttal of judgements made even in the Supreme Court, subservient as it is to the Supreme Legislative Assembly, or Houses of Parliament. The United Kingdom has taken back sovereignty, resting in Parliament, which rests on its Demos. True to say a “sick” parliament, one where it is not capable of passing laws, does not serve the people, and must be replaced. Generally speaking, that means a General Election, or a party replacing members who cannot toe the agreed line – removing the Whip. That is the reason governments with a large majority are so powerful, for though a member cannot lose his seat immediately if the whip is withdrawn, their chances of future re-election are almost nil. Those Conservative MP’s elected in the 2019 General Election are particularly encumbered because it was based on one positive objective: disengagement from the European Union. To not back the government on this matter would be to have been elected on false pretences.
What does this complicated system rest on, and how did we get there?
Greek democracy was itself “democratic lite”, that is, applicable solely to Athens. Getting twenty thousand citizens in a field to cast their vote called for a little more than sleight of hand, and postal voting had not yet occurred to the Romans, even those in Bath! ** Such was the Greek temperament, that every now and again, under the pressure of overcrowding, they sent groups into the wilderness to colonise some place or other, prevent multitudinous arguments, and instead, carry on the Athenian ideal. Italy turned out to be a handy destination where the system seems to have found advocates in new and aspiring immigrant races, not necessarily Greek. For example, the Etruscans pioneered city states all over the modern regions of Tuscany and Umbria. Not that they always got on so well with each other, having a penchant for a theocracy of religious princes, until they came under the political sway of Rome.
Rome, like England, was a true colonial power, planting political seeds all over the Mediterranean and beyond, proving quite capable having to deal with intransigent locals and organising them into a coherent society. Originally, the law of Rome was based on the city and limited to a body of citizens born within its boundaries. It was obviously not suited to the heterogeneous character of a massively expanded empire of alien nationals all trying to do business in diverse markets on an international scale. To do this, Rome gave them a body of laws fashioned out of the need for their burgeoning empire to function fairly and equably. It was these laws that centuries later formed English Mercantile Law based on fair dealing and common sense that ultimately became incorporated into English law. You may ask, at this point, what has this got to do with Demos? It lies in the fact that these Roman laws were informal, having to be continually modified in consideration of equity, justice and fair play. Simply, practices that relied on common agreement given judicial power controlled by the governing body of the Roman Senate that finally morphed into our modern parliaments. I’ll pass over the prickly subject of church and state – as both King and Pope were ultimately given roles that suited the people. Briefly, though the Stuarts were returned after the death of Cromwell, Parliament never after lost its commanding position, or influence, as Charles the Second subsequently found out. Within fifty years the important Bill of Rights was passed. From 1800 Parliament really took command of the country - The Great Reform Act 1832 massively increased the ranks of voters (though oddly banning women who had voted before, until reinstated in 1918), the Abolition of Slavery 1833, and most importantly, The Universal Education Act 1870, extended to girls, 1880. In 1900 the Labour Party was founded, adding depth to the Liberal and Conservative parties, so completing representation for all three sociological sections of society, which is where we are today, the modern world.
Some may feel that as a system of government it isn’t working well, but in fact I believe the opposite. We have a majority government trying to affect the publics wishes to a policy that has been debated and honed after some years of acrimonious deliberation. The reasons why the majority voted ‘yes’ may never be known, and would serve little purpose as the act has now been passed into law. No doubt in years to come a parliament of a different complexion will modify, or perhaps even change the present existing law, but one hopes any future change will still be made with the consent of the people. As Winston Churchill said in the year of my birth:
“Do not let us speak of darker days; let us rather speak of sterner days. These are not dark days: these are great days – “
The majority of British people have chosen to make it so again.
**Sorry. My sense of humour. Thomas Musgrave was the Postmaster of Bath who mailed the first postage stamp in the world – the famous Penny Black.