Friday, 18 November 2011

Bureaucrats 2 Democrats 0

SOME people are so unlovely it goes against the grain to agree with anything they say. Nigel Farage, the chinless wonder who fronts the UK Independence Party, is one such for me.
Yet there I was nodding in agreement with him the other day as he was sympathising with the poor Greeks.
The Socialist George Papandreou had the misfortune to lead a chronically corrupt country at a time of severe economic pressure from within and without.
But the sin – in the eyes of Europe’s leaders it was a sin – that drove him from office in Athens was that of trying to call a referendum. Applying a democratic filter to a distinctly non-democratic order – sorry, offer – from Brussels.
So a democratically elected prime minister is hounded out for trying to act democratically.
To be replaced by a banker, Lucas Papademos, who despite his name (roughly translated, it means “father of the people”) has never been elected to anything.
A man who has taught economics in the USA and Germany, been governor of the Bank of Greece and more recently vice-president of the European Central Bank.
The very bank, coincidentally, whose offer poor Papandreou wanted to put to the people for a decision. The bank which wouldn’t take “maybe” for an answer.
Farage thinks pulling the rug from under a democratically elected PM and replacing him with a banker is a pretty poor trick for Europe to play on Greece. And I’m inclined to agree with him.
And then there’s Italy. Where – guess what? – the democratically elected Silvio Berlusconi is kicked out, effectively by the powers-that-be-Europe. To be replaced by an economist who has been European commissioner for things such as internal markets, taxation and competition.
So again an elected PM is unceremoniously dumped in favour of a Brussels apparatchik with a background in banking.
Are you thinking what I’m thinking? That it was bankers that got us all – Europe and the rest – into this mess…
Mario Monti, the man who has just become Italian PM by invitation, is described as “economist and politician”. Yet, like Papademos, his political career, such as it is, has been unmarked by anything so messy as an election.
His career in the corridors of European power began in 1995 when he was appointed – ironically by Berlusconi.
So are these unelected “technocrats” (sounds so much nicer than “bankers”, doesn’t it?) likely to do better than their elected predecessors? Only time will tell – and it will undoubtedly depend then on how you look at it.
All in all it’s been a rotten couple of weeks for democracy. And depressing evidence that Farage might have been at least part-right all along in his contempt for European bureaucracy.
Then again, democracy isn’t necessarily the great thing it’s usually cracked up to be.
After all, it gave Italy nine years of Berlusconi. Which in British terms is like repeatedly giving the PM’s job to a monster composed of equal parts of Rupert Murdoch, Roman Abramovich and porn and sleaze merchant Paul Raymond.
Which, on second thoughts, might not be so much worse than what it’s lumbered us with.


THE headline was stark and shocking: Cameron seeks to push a million workers out of the public sector.
That’s terrible, right?
But read on and it explained: Staff in the NHS and other services are being shifted into mutual-style programmes based on the John Lewis model.
So that’s not so bad, then. In fact it’s good, right?
After all, despite bearing one man’s name, John Lewis stores are a partnership. Its workers aren’t just employees, but co-owners of the business, with a full say in how it’s run.
A remarkably good model, in fact, for how to run a business.
Well yes, a business. A shop, even a chain of shops. As long as some bigger business predator doesn’t come along and snap it up.
But hospitals? Schools? Job centres? Prisons? How exactly can they be improved by putting the profit motive before the duty of care?
Even if it is the workers that profit.
And one can’t help fearing that any benefit the workers might feel will be temporary.
How many of the ordinary Joes who fell for that “Tell Sid” campaign in the 1980s still profit from British Gas?
Remember what happened to those original mutuals of the high street, the building societies? The Britannia’s about the only one that remains truly mutual, and even it’s had to merge with the Co-op Bank to fend off those cash-hungry predators.
What was once the Abbey National is now a Spanish national by the name of Santander. Our local water company and major electricity generator are French-owned.
How long, I wonder, before the first British hospital or prison is owned by a Russian oil tycoon or a Chinese mining company?
The sorry truth behind Cameron’s cavalier break-up of national services is that it’s simply more back-door privatisation.
Putting more public money and public services in private hands.
So yes, your first thought was right. It’s terrible.

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