Paul Dundon’s Weblog

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A little cheese and a little whine

Why No might be a Good Result

A No for the referendum – which seems, on the basis of opinion polls, to be the most likely outcome – will have the effect of splitting the “Fairer Votes” movement in two. On the one hand there will be those who become disheartened and fall away; on the other, there will be those who recognise that their desire for democratic reform will have to find new avenues.

This is no bad thing. Fairer votes are important, but as I have pointed out elsewhere, electoral reform really only makes a difference to those already near to the heart of politics. There are more important things to consider.

One of those has been on the table for the last thirty years and is core to our understanding of democracy and our experience of it. It is the question of the proper sphere of government – what it is okay, and not okay, for governments to do.

The recent recession (and the inevitable deficit it created) was a consequence of irresponsible lending on the part of the banks. We can argue about the fine print, but there’s no way to escape this general conclusion. The problem is that at the time, the government was powerless to stop what was going on; and now the train is wrecked they are powerless to fix things. This is largely a consequence of the systematic evisceration of the whole business of government which we have witnessed since neoliberalism came to dominance in the 1980’s.

The neoliberal view – that the only justifiable function of government is the protection of property rights – deserves to be taken seriously. It has more than a little to recommend it, both philosophically and pragmatically. It is not convincing in all cases, however, nor is it in reality the trump card it is often played as.

This means we have to re-examine our understanding of what governments are for; where the line is to be drawn between individual liberty and democratic will. That’s a tough question, and one which, historically, has had some very ugly answers. But when we reach a stage where irresponsible financiers can wreck the economy and the government can do nothing but sit idly by, then we no longer have a government: we just have a bunch of elected officials who happen to run the Civil Service.

So, while I am really hoping for a Yes in the referendum, I won’t be disheartened by a No. There is a great deal to be done to claim back genuine democratic control of the country, and a No vote might just galvanize us to do it.

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Filed under: Politics

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My Bookshelf

The Golden Bough
The Value of Nothing
The Fire
A Wolf at the Table
Devil Bones

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