Democracy! What Democracy?

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Do we live in a Democracy, is democracy really possible or are the mass media manipulating democracy for their own benefit?

I’m sure we can argue about when Democracy began in the United Kingdom, but for the sake of argument let’s say Democracy was introduced to these fair Isles between 1850 and 1928, when the necessary Acts of Parliament were enacted to give people the franchise. So we can agree that we have lived in Democracy for at least part of the time, and that within the 20th Century people fought and died for Democracy to live in this country. However I believe we are living in a time when our Democracy has been eroded to such an extent that we might as well not have one.

Don’t for one moment think that this anything to do with the recent referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, as it’s not. How can I possibly have an issue with 75 % of those eligible to vote turning out to use their franchise, I can’t, and as for the result it was one reached at by the will of the people who voted?
What this article is however is about how our mass media seem to be attempting at every turn to undermine the Democracy that as I say people fought and died for in two World Wars. Today on the 30th June 2016 we begin to commemorate The Battle of the Somme when there were more than 57,000 casualties on the first day, more than 19,000 of whom died, and what were they ultimately fighting for? Democracy.

The Country is at the moment in turmoil with a virtual political vacuum. A Prime Minister who has resigned and in effect a lame duck, which has led to a Conservative Party now jostling in its factions for who will become the next Prime Minister, a Labour Party in disarray with MP’s revolting against both the Leader and Membership of the party deciding they have no confidence in the leader who has the biggest mandate of any party leader possibly in the entire 20th Century. And a country, crying out for stability and leadership in the wake of the referendum where there has been a rise in hatred and intolerance.

For a long time I believed I lived in a county of openness and tolerance, a country that welcomed and provided safe haven to people fleeing persecution and war, a country that stood up for the downtrodden and oppressed, but I have come to the conclusion that I was a silly idealistic fool who believed everyone was as nice as me. However in the last few weeks I have come to my senses, not only is the UK a dirtier and more intolerant place but the world appears to turning on itself, with a prospective American President stirring up hatred and providing divisive policy statements like wanting to build a wall along the border with Mexico vilifying people seeking a better life and even worse suggesting the USA ban entry to the country by anyone of the Muslim faith “till we know what’s going on”, good luck with those two things Mr Trump.

And yet the mass media seem to be holding no one to account, we seem to have a press who seem to be setting the agenda and not reporting on it, we seem to have a journalistic corps who have become lazy and stopped asking the difficult questions of our political classes. We have editors and news stations almost dictating the agenda and trying to control thought, never before have I felt more like a citizen of the totalitarian state of Oceania as so ably set out by George Orwell in 1984. I am waiting with bated breath for Mr Dacre, Editor of the Daily Mail and Editor in Chief of dmg media to describe a Conservative Prime Minister as “doubleplusgood” or a Labour Leader as “doubleplusungood”. And to cap it all we have an Australian media mogul in the guise of Rupert Murdoch who owns a massive slice of the UK print media and TV news channel, who believes he can walk into the heart of UK government and tell them what to do, and has met with the prospective US candidate Donald Trump almost certainly to provide his approval for his candidacy. 

I fear a press which is allowed to lead and dictate the political agenda. Hear in the UK a leaked email between Michael Gove MP and his journalist wife suggested that unless he could get certain assurances from Boris Johnson MP on aspects of the UK’s exit from the EU that the Conservative Party membership would not back him in his bid to be the next Conservative Leader and “neither will Dacre/Murdoch”. This frightens me that the press are in effect setting the agenda, suggesting that unless you fall into line with what WE want then we will not support you in our vast media machine. Now I understand that the press can and have supported particular politicians and agendas and have been instrumental in how a nation votes, but to suggest that unless they get certain assurances they would not provide support is for me a step too far. It seems to me that the press has in many ways lost its way, I argued in an article recently that we all want a free press but that by being a free press doesn’t mean that they have should have free reign to do as they will, but should be properly and independently regulated to ensure public interest and not self interest in what they print. In order for an applying organisation to become a registered charity in England and Wales they must pass the public benefit test, this is set down in such things as law and in president, the Charities Act for example indicates that a charity must be for the benefit of the public or a large enough section of society to be analogous to the public, meaning for example you can’t set up a charity to benefit a single person. I believe therefore that in deciding if the activities of the press are in the public interest they must also pass some sort of legal test.

Some journalists it seems to me have become lazy in their examinations, unless of course it is salacious and will sell copies. I guess how an Editor decides his journalists will look a story is important, so let’s use a current example and look at the Leadership of the Labour Party. The press seems to be set on seeing Jeremy Corbyn resigning as leader of the Labour Party based on a vote of no confidence by 200 Members of the Parliamentary Labour Party (MPs), when as the Leader of the Party he has the overwhelming support of the Membership of the Party, some 180,000 members and rising. So instead of reporting that he has support for his Leadership through a democratic process they decide to report the story of the MPs rebellion, often without knowing what their constituency members think, for example last night the membership in the constituency of Keir Starmer met with him to discuss the current situation and it appeared were significantly in favour of the leadership of Mr Corbyn. So in this situation the MP is going against the wishes of the members who selected him to represent them as their member of parliament. Yet this isn’t reported by the press, what is reported is that the leader refuses to resign, even though he has an overwhelming mandate, what is more interesting they argue is that Mr Corbyn is “stubborn” or “defiant” which seems to be much more reflective of the MPs.

So if the press is setting the political agenda and manipulating the public to its will do we actually live in a democracy? If anyone thinks differently to those who are at the top of these organisations are we in effect committing thoughtcrime? We often find politicians spouting political rhetoric which has no meaning, I refer to the afore mentioned Donald J. Trump and his nonsensical policy around Muslims entering the United States for one how does he propose to identify them? I’m pretty sure my passport does not indicate my religious beliefs. So when being interviewed politicians are using verbosity and pretention and meaningless words in order to dodge, evade and just not answer a simple question put to them. And yes I get the irony of my using the word verbosity. 

What we need is a Democracy in which politicians provide us with the truth in order that we can make true informed decision about who we believe, without spin, without deception and without rhetoric. We need to be able to rely on what we are told by those who make public policy and who are sent to our legislative chambers to represent us. A friend of mine made a comment today about the European Parliament in response to a comment by leader of UKIP Nigel Farage, in which he questioned how many members from across Europe had had proper jobs, my friend then said and yes I wonder how many of them were elected. Well as with MEPs from the UK all of them are elected, that’s the point they are the elected representatives of each of the nations who are members of the EU. So Mr Farage’s rhetoric seems to click with some people, even when the words coming out of the mouth in question are doubleungood.

In a survey by Ipsos MORI the public overwhelmingly indicated that they consider Politicians and Government Minister the least likely to tell the truth, with Estate Agents and Journalists in joint third place. So this tells us that we generally do not believe what politicians tell us, so how are we in a democracy supposed to be able to make an informed decision, what do we do flip a coin when a politician speaks in order to decide if we believe them? You would hope that in a democracy with a free press which isn’t the mouthpiece of an oppressive state that they would work hard to print the truth and not the rhetorical spin of political parties who only want to retain power for their own personal gain as career politicians. In effect they should be the top of the tree but with a press who are potentially manipulating them so are they merely puppets of press barons and others who potentially weald the ultimate power through their means of influencing the public and through the wealth they may own which keeps politicians in their positions of power.

So I question if we actually live in a Democracy or are we actually living in a state of constant manipulation, we are bombarded with information, posters, messages, speeches which are designed to influence our choices, but not for our benefit but for the benefit of the political classes. I wonder if a party can win power on under 40% of the vote because people feel so disconnected from politicians who don’t seem to understand their situations and yet are supposed to represent them, often being parachuted into constituencies they have no connection to so no understanding of the social cultural and political history of an area. I wonder if we can ever truly call ourselves a Democracy in whatever country we live in, because at the end of the day there will always be someone with more power and influence trying to manipulate a population to believe them and allow into power, and with press organisations who have such power they are potentially uncontrollable. I’m happy I think to say that I no longer think I live in a world where Democracy is important, more that the façade of Democracy is important, when we live in a age when the three least trusted groups are Politicians, Government Ministers and Journalists.

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