Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The more things change

Researching the social turmoil in Manchester UK during the early 1840s throws up some alarming parallels with the recent past. In many ways this period throughout the newly emerged industrial England was an extension of the feudalism which preceded it, only the masters changed.

The power of the aristocracy was slipping being replaced by the power of capital. The ordinary people were becoming more dependent on their industrialist employers than they ever had been in the previous agrarian society, as hard as that had been for most

I would contend that Manchester was at that time the major crucible of modern economics. While my primary focus has been the Chartism it is impossible to ignore the various other political and social reform groups which impinged on their relatively straight forward political aims of a democratic parliament.

By 1842 support for the charter was spreading throughout the country, but like a modern corporation the popularity made it ripe for takeover. The makeup of the movement had changed and become divided by differing interests.

There were those seeking little more than opportunity for a cherished seat in Parliament, a burgeoning socialist movement was riding the coattails of the Chartists, various social reform movements were looking for advantage within the movement, and there was doubtless a natural symbiotic relationship with the development of organised labour.

Absent at that time we only Frederick Engels and Karl Marx, with the former busy designing his blueprint for communism in the cauldron of Manchester social and political upheaval.

A New Charter

Modern Liberalism was also influenced by the dramas playing out in the cotton city. . Liberal economics sought to provide, at least, sufficient nourishment and rest to provide viable workers for the factories. Nothing should hinder the profits of industry.

All a long winded way of suggesting that the neo-liberalism of the past thirty years sought a return to a time when capital was absolute master. The tide is now turning, but undoing the massive damage will be no easy matter.

I would have supported the charter in 1842 and I would propose a new charter now. The truth is our parliaments (congresses) are still no more democratic. Electoral systems are rigged to ensure only those in the club form governments. Parties might differ in substance but we are still denied real democracy.

To my mind a new charter would seek:

  • The banning of all political donations, being replaced by taxpayer funding
  • All candidates, not parties, allocated an equal time/space in appropriate media
  • All 3rd party advertising would be banned
  • Ex members would be barred from holding any commercial position which relates to former elected responsibilities for two years. To compensate ex members would be compensated with their elected entitlements for the duration.

I really owe those points to my blog friend and guide on certain issues Abi. The fact is, as Abi has often pointed out, money is undermining our democratic systems. We might have full voter franchise now, but it means little when votes, legislation and a host of other government preferments can be bought.


TomCat said...

Excellent points, Cart. I am a long term proponent of the first two, and three and four make sense as well, except for limited advertising for state ballot measures (referenda).

Cart said...

I hadn't really extended to referenda. Still, I don't see why a publicly paid advertising of the major yes/no arguments shouldn't suffice.
Both elections and referenda it puts the onus on those involved to actually get out among the people rather than the Madison Avenue approach.
Get them all back out among the people.

TomCat said...

I would have no problem with public financing for referenda as a rule, but here in Oregon, we get an awful lot of ludicrous ballot measures.

D.K. Raed said...

hmm, I thought I had commented here ... I think I said your new charter points sound good to me, especially the public financing, if that would also preclude a wealthy candidate from using his/her own funds (always a loophole)!

I hear what Tomcat is saying. In California, we were inundated with propositions, but the (publically-funded) voter information guide did a fairly good job of presenting the pros and cons of each initiative. It helped to see WHO was in support or against something, too.

Now here in UT, we barely have any propositions, maybe 1 or 2 each election. I don't know if it's better to have relinquished so much control to the legislature, but it was very tiresome in CA to have to slog through 20 or 30 of them each election. There has to be a reasonable expectation that the voter will actually be able to comprehend the issue being voted on.

Cart said...

I expect practical democracy should also obey the general rule of 'all things in moderation'.
In fact I'd go a step further and suggest that pre-voting systems should reduce the need for referenda if they are representative of the people's needs.
I'm not suggesting we have that here. The parties have skewed the system so that they select candidates and policies solely. But I think the balance comes in with that desire to win. You can't win if you piss off too many voters.
Rudd overcame the stiff necked elements in his party and has set out to talk to the people about real aspirations.
With that approach he came the electorate the confidence to dump Howard's autocratic rule. In the end democracy takes time.