Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Failing of Democracy through the Expenses Scandal

The elections are over and we see New Labour thoroughly thrashed in the European and local elections. And once again we see the gullibility of the electorate and the big flaw in democracy,

Starting at the beginning, we saw the Telegraph exposing the expenses scandal. What few people noticed was the Goebbels style propaganda coup- where the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth was told. But that truth was represented in such a way that the reporters and the newspaper editor knew would manipulate public opinion.

In the first week of the exposé we heard about the New Labour politicians (I use the term loosely!) inventive claims. Now as you will probably know from previous posts I am no lover of New Labour, or for that matter any of the three 'front runners' of the political spectrum. But why the emphasis on New Labour? Anybody with a modicum of intelligence would immediately realise politicians from all parties would have their snouts in the trough. In fact, I suspect there is almost a club culture where experienced politicians educate their newly elected brethren in creative claiming. The second week we began to see politicians from other parties exposed. Yet still most of the anger was directed at the Labour Party.

Most people might reasonably suppose that this is because they are the Government and as such carry the onus of responsibility. Yet this or some similar situation has probably existed since our modern parliament was conceived.

Let me explain by example. Hopefully, it will show how the truth can be manipulated and the next time a scandal is exposed or a headline misleads, you might be able to better understand the machinations of the media and how they manipulate us using psychological techniques- propaganda. In the early 1970's Ted Heaths' Tory government was brought down by two miner's strikes, one of which included the mass picketing of the Saltley coking plant.

I know it well. I was born almost next door in Cranby Street. At the time I still lived in Birmingham. We had the Evening Mail delivered every evening and one of the front-page headlines read "Policeman Hurt on Picket Line". This had the immediate effect of inflaming emotions and angering the average man in the street- even those who while not wholeheartedly supporting the miners might have felt some sympathy for their plight. It turned borderline opinion against the miners. How dare they picket and attack our policemen?

My father, on reading the headline but before reading the article immediately began a diatribe condemning all miners and trade unionists and suggesting they should be shot. I suspect this was the reaction of most people not educated in the expertise of manipulative journalism.

Reading on, the piece described how a policeman, not even on the picket line had been walking towards the coking plant and as he crossed the road, slipped on the kerb and twisted his ankle. This made no difference to most people. The emotions had been aroused by the headline and opinion had been formulated that all pickets were violent and that they had attacked the clumsy policeman.

One might argue that without the pickets there would be no need for him to have been there and he wouldn't have been hurt. Fair enough, that is an opinion. But why didn't the Mail report it so? Because it would not have been inflammatory. No, the Mail knew what it was doing and knew that regardless of the following story opinion would be formed by the headline and some would believe what they wanted to believe and ignore what was contrary to that belief.

And the same is true of the Telegraphs series of revelations. People read that Labour politicians were on the take. It was fed to them for a week and irrespective of subsequent revelations, the mould was set and New Labour was the cause and propagator of every conceivable ill.

Then came the elections. And what do the electorate do? Either didn't vote or chose a protest vote for an independent or minority party, the main result of which let the Tories in all over the country.

This is one of the big flaws in democracy. People using their vote as a form of protest. A free, secret vote is a very precious thing, hard won by the blood, sweat and tears of ordinary people. It should be used according to ones conscience and beliefs, not to stick it to a party that has offended – particularly when that party is not guilty in isolation, but part of a much wider conspiracy. And if you think that voting for an independent that is free of corruption is the answer, they are no purer in thought or deed than the politicians we have ousted. Granted, they are unlikely to stick their noses in the expenses trough, but how many politicians who have been caught with their fingers in the till do you think would risk continuing to deceive? And then there are those who remembered the New Labour corruption and voted Tory, forgetting they too were guilty as charged thanks to manipulative reporting.

So the protest vote has done little for British politics apart from confer power by default. It has done nothing for democracy besides expose one of its weaknesses.

It probably means that by the middle of 2010 we will have a Tory government who will win by a massive majority. They will believe, as in the 1980's that they have the mandate of the people and will convince enough of us that their economic strategies are essential for the good of the country and eventually we will all benefit. In fact the wealthy will get wealthier and the poor will get poorer and we will be repeatedly told by the White Queen 'The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday - but never jam to-day.'
(Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1871))


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