Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Student protests and the democratic deficit

I recommend reading Neil Faulkner's major new article for Counterfire, 'Democracy, direct action and revolution'. It begins:

'As the light dimmed in Parliament Square on the afternoon of 9 December 2010, how many of the thousands kettled there realised they were making history? Here, before the world’s TV cameras, in an urban space dominated by the monumental architecture and bronze statuary of the British state, the drama of the democratic deficit was being acted out as if it were a carefully choreographed stage-performance.

On the far side of the square, in the neo-Gothic Victorian splendour of their Parliament building, the political representatives of the British ruling class were voting to triple university tuition-fees.

No-one had voted for this in the May 2010 general election – not even the massed ranks of the Tory-voting middle class – any more than they had they voted for the biggest package of cuts since the 1920s and the effective destruction of the postwar welfare state.

Even in relation to the Tories, there was no meaningful relationship between what politicians had said they stood for in May and what they were now proposing to do. But the case of the Liberal Democrats was worse. The Tories are, after all, the open party of the rich and big business; lying on behalf of their class is so deeply ingrained it is instinctive. The Lib-Dems, on the other hand, like to pose as a ‘progressive’ alternative, and the May 2010 general election had offered them a supreme opportunity to do so.

New Labour’s 13-year embrace of privatisation and the market, its endorsement of growing social inequality, and the nauseating way in which its suited career-politicians had sucked up to the rich and powerful, had opened a space on the mainstream centre-left into which Clegg manoeuvred his party.

It was undiluted opportunism. Clegg, like Cameron, is a millionaire from public school and Oxbridge. He belongs to the British ruling class: the 2% of millionaires and their families who cream off wealth created by the work of others in the form of executive salaries, fat-cat bonuses, and property portfolios. And he leads a thoroughly bourgeois party, unequivocally committed to British capitalism, its orange ‘radicalism’ mere election trail hocus-pocus.

Consequently, the formation of the Con-Dem Coalition was no mould-breaking transformation of British politics. It was a natural class alliance. But for millions who voted Liberal Democrat in May 2010, this has been a revelation.

Partly in response to their specific pledge not to increase tuition fees and a vaguer pledge to work towards the abolition of fees entirely, and partly because they talked in general as if they were the radical alternative to New Labour, almost half of student voters backed the Lib-Dems in May 2010. For these new voters, the shock of electoral betrayal has been extreme.

The ‘democratic deficit’ is no longer a hazy sense of lies and broken promises among older voters with low expectations. It is the visceral experience of young voters who enter the political process for the first time with their ideals and hopes intact, only to discover that they have been lied to and betrayed by a right-wing political elite that represents not ‘the people’, but the rich, the bankers, and their own tawdry careers.

But now something more has happened. On 9 December 2010, in the Battle of Parliament Square, the size of the democratic deficit was tripled. To grasp the significance of what happened on that day, we must review the month of mounting protest which preceded it.'


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