Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Rich elite beware as death knell sounds for democracy

Be prepared: Greek anti-austerity protesters clash with police in Athens

I think it's clear that every man that is to live under a government ought first, by his own consent, to put himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under."

Or the poorest man in Greece, or Italy, or the Republic of Ireland. Or woman, either. They who have not put the government above them are not bound to buckle under its decrees.

The quote is from Thomas Rainsborough, addressing Henry Ireton at the Putney Debates of 1647. Ireton, speaking for Cromwell, had wanted to know on what basis the Levellers demanded equal representation in Parliament for the poor and "the middling sort of people".

Because they who make laws for all must be chosen by all, rather than by, for example, the EU, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Silvio Berlusconi may have been a corrupt buffoon, but he was a buffoon with a democratic mandate.

That counted for nothing when, fearful of the wrath of a broad swathe of the electorate, he proved unable, or unwilling, to meet the demands of the aforementioned unelected elite.

Following Berlusconi's replacement by a government headed by top Goldman Sachs adviser Mario Monti and a cabinet without a single member elected by anyone, in what sense is Italy now a democracy? Especially when the stated purpose of the regime is to impose measures it knows would not be accepted by the people if the people were asked?

Meanwhile, across the Aegean, Geogios Papandreu, Prime Minister on account of his PASOK party having won substantially more votes than any other in the October 2009 general election, was elbowed aside to make way for central banker Lucas Papademos, who has never sought - much less won - a single vote in his life. Not that Mr Papademos is now being indulged by his sponsors.

On Monday, the European Commission told Mr Papademos, in no-nonsense terms, that his administration must put its pledge to obey EU/ECB/IMF austerity requirements in writing before Athens is given the next installment of its bailout.

EU economic and monetary affairs commissioner Olli Rehn specified that Antonis Samaras, leader of the second-largest Greek party, New Democracy, which has been a bit iffy about austerity, must personally put his signature to a document promising not to be so cheeky in future.

The Dublin government remains in office, but has already lost power. Its budget proposals have been submitted for approval to the Bundestag's finance committee before being made available to Irish parliamentarians because German law insists it be so. The fact that the Irish constitution says different is irrelevant.

What price, then, Mariano Rajoy's Spanish government, elected last weekend and now scrambling to find ways of avoiding a take-over by next weekend?

On Tuesday, the Hungarian PM, Viktor Orban, made an official request to the IMF and EU for financial help. Interestingly, and perhaps ominously for the UK, Hungary is a member of the EU, but not of the eurozone.

Portugal is a long-time basket-case. Since last week, the credit agencies have been writing down France. Yesterday, Germany found no takers for 35% of 10-year bonds it had just put on offer.

How many governments are there left in Europe with an ability to shape economic policy on the basis of the needs and stated wishes of the people?

The UK? The clearest sign yet of what's in store came last week with the disposal of the taxpayer-owned Northern Rock at a knock-down price to Richard Branson's Virgin Group - headquartered in a tax haven - in a deal arranged by Treasury consultants Deutsche Bank without need for Treasury approval.

All over Europe, democracy is becoming a dead letter. The reason the Occupy movement has touched a nerve is not just that economic disparities have become grotesque, but that masses of people are increasingly aware that conventional, constitutional politics are a waste of time.

If I were part of the moneyed elite, I'd beware the thing that is coming. The poor and the middling sort of people should be making preparation. Don't whinge. Organise.

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