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European elite looking to a new form of government—a pre-democratic one

It is surely just a matter of time before neo-liberal logic demands that the spheres of politics and business also be synchronized. After all, doesn’t the whole notion of ‘political accountability’ rather smack of ‘restrictive practice’ when you think about it?

Britain, unlike, say, Ireland and most other countries, does not have a written constitution in which the relationship between the national and local government is codified. This, however, has not stopped us from developing a balancing act between Parliament and local councils that, while sort of muddling through, still seemed to work well enough for most of the people most of the time.

However, the instant local councils were stripped of their revenue raising abilities, the essential equilibrium was forfeited and power flooded toward the centre. Thereafter Government awarded councils an allowance and, to add insult to injury, liked to interfere in how it should be spent. Along with the loss of prestige suffered by the council as a whole, the stock of the individual councillor was further eroded when, on the grounds of efficiency, the cabinet system was introduced by New Labour.

Here was a move that knowingly increased the conflict between councillors elected to represent and vote on the interests of their constituents at ward level, and ministers and/or council officers making the real decisions at some other time and some other place. Rather odd in a democracy that the elected representative can be called junior to some anonymous factotum in the town hall, don’t you think?

Well, seemingly Hazel Blears’s forthcoming Local Government White Paper promises to resolve the inconsistency. Rumour has it that the status of local elections is to be reduced ‘to a largely consultative status with their remaining powers supplanted by forums, meetings and consultation sessions, subject to superior veto.’

Now such a stroke has been on the cards for quite a while. Local government by quango was something the IWCA anticipated a decade back: ‘Already almost 90% of local funding comes from central government. While the percentage may increase, the funds allocated may well be reduced. No proper funding, no proper services, no need for accountable local government. Local government by quango is a very real possibility in the near future.’ (Interview with IWCA spokesman, Red Action, Spring 1997)

No doubt this shedding of democracy will be promoted under the title of ‘empowering local communities’ or something equally Orwellian.

But if this does appear a rather radical departure even for New Labour, it is because many otherwise politically educated people simply do not get neo-liberalism. Uniformly, left liberal commentators, if they refer to it at all, do so in terms of economics only.

But neo-liberal philosophy has so much more to offer. Like its social democratic and Keynesian predecessors, it too looks at society in the totality, even though the kind of economic freedom available under neo-liberalism is of a very narrow kind and ultimately illusory if you’re working class.

Putting that rather major philosophical flaw to one side, neo-liberalism nonetheless demands that if the free will of the individual (the ‘choice’ agenda) is lauded in one sphere, beginning, say, with business, it must eventually be celebrated in every other sphere.

We have been hearing for over a decade now how people do not really care how or by whom the health service is provided so long as they receive effective treatment free at the point of delivery as always.

This is a fairly obvious strategm with the architects fully understanding that the means of delievery will in the long-run determine both the quality of the service provided and the price for providing it. Or putting it another way, the means will inevitably determine the end. One way or the other, long before they’re finished, ordinary people will be faced with a straight choice alright: pay for adequate treatment or make do with second best. This contributor to the Daily Telegraph online discussion ‘The NHS is foolish to demonise privitisation’ sums up the thinking behind the choice agenda rather nicely.

‘Even as an ex-doctor I find the concept of free healthcare a mistake when added to the free everything else that the lazy spineless underclasses aspire to. I packed up medicine largely as a result of having to deal with their minor moans and need for excuses.

‘Paying for health care concentrates the mind and the finances and makes peope very much more aware of the consequences of their failings. Cutting out the lager, reducing food intake, illegal drug bills, huge TVs, keeping themslves fit and so on, which are presently paid for by the taxpayer, would easily pay for the fairly small payments required for a family under 50.

‘The absence of free medical care requires a new mindset for most if the parameters are correctly assigned. Even in the USA there are measures to ensure that the VERY poor are not left to die at the roadside and those foolish enough not to have taken out insurance or saved for the eventuality will, quite rightly, pay for it with their possessions.’ (Posted by Meditek June 5 2008)

NHS dentistry is already a fair distance down this road. The latest reports show that dentists are being incentivised to take more private patients and to avoid taking on NHS patients whose treatment might prove costly. Legal aid is another area that has benefited from the same choice agenda.

Taken together with the ‘freeing up’ of the railways, gas, electricty water, housing and schools it is surely just a matter of time before neo-liberal logic will demand that the spheres of politics and business also be synchronized. After all, doesn’t the whole notion of ‘political accountability’ rather smack of ‘restrictive practice’ when you think about it? And so awfully last century to boot? How long before the cry is heard for politics also to be freed? After all, as long as the right decisions are arrived at, what does it matter who arrives at them?

We may be nearer than you think. Witness the European power elite visibly bristling with impatience after the Irish No vote on the Lisbon Treaty. Now try and convince yourself they are not actually hankering for the return to a more efficient form of government: a pre-democratic one. What’s significantly different between now and a decade ago it is that we are no longer the only ones saying so.

Wrting in The Guardian, Simon Jenkins argues that ‘Loathing of elections has led British democracy to atrophy: Unchecked by any formal constitution, power drifts to the centre, where the will of the people is treated with utter disdain.’

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