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Isn’t it time we got serious about democracy?

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, December 12th 2019

Democracy is not in good health in the UK or across most of the developed world. The UK election has not been, putting it mildly, an edifying spectacle or healthy clash of ideas and interests. Instead, it has signalled something deeply wrong in the democratic process – something that the political classes do not seem to understand needs to fundamentally change.

This election has not felt owned by people. Rather it has felt like something done to voters by others. This malaise is evident everywhere in the ever present vox pops with one voter declaring on Monday that politics and politicians were even invading morning TV, sighing about the election: ‘we cannot escape it’.

The inference is that we are far removed from the age when people themselves created and could see themselves collectively in the democratic process. No longer do people feel this is their democracy; rather it feels like someone else’s story – an exercise in window dressing run for the benefit of the political classes.

Once upon a time election campaigns happened out there – in constituencies up and down the land – and then those events and occasions were reported in the media. Nowadays, there is little real campaigning in the traditional sense, but all sorts of stand-alone, pop up, voter contact and virtual events and happenings. Much of this, if not nearly all of this, is done to provide the media, particularly the broadcast media, with content and pictures. We have turned full circle in the campaign-media relationship, with the latter reporting activities that are not organic or grass root, but rather a replica and pretence – and voters can sense it. Read the rest of this entry »

Is Britain Broken? And what should we do in this election and beyond?

Gerry Hassan

Sunday National, December 8th 2019

The United Kingdom is not a happy place at the moment. This has been a strange, unsatisfying election campaign. People feel ignored and distrustful of politicians. But more than that, they don’t feel that they own what passes for democracy.

This has a longer tail than this election. A host of factors have contributed to the current state of Britain. There is the UK’s struggle to find a global role post-Empire. The dependency on the so called ‘special relationship’ with the US. There is the inability to embrace the European project and become a modern European state – an ambivalence which paved the way for Brexit.

There is the stark reality of life in Britain for millions of people. The UK is one of the most unequal countries in the developed world – a land of wealth and affluence with one of the meanest and least compassionate in government with a parsimonious, punitive welfare state and paltry state pensions.

There has been the decline of the old British establishment and the rise of a new establishment even more self-serving. Adding to this is the increasingly capital-centric nature of British capitalism – dominated by London and the South East – and the City of London that crowds out the real economy, jobs and investment. Read the rest of this entry »

Democracy isn’t working: Can it be fixed?

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, December 4th 2019

Britain likes to claim to be the inventor of democracy, and England to assume the mantle of being ‘the mother of Parliaments’. These are national myths – leaving aside that the oldest national legislature in the world is the Icelandic Parliament.

The Whig story of democracy has been one of the most prominent interpretations of British and English public life and traditions. It is one which has been told and retold by enlightened and less enlightened sections of the British establishment.

It has also been uncritically championed by large elements of the British left, in Labour, the Liberals and then Lib Dems, and wider intellectual circles. They, as much as Tory and right-wing circles, have felt drawn to the story of British continuity and exceptionalism – and putting Britain at the heart of a global story for good which reflects well on life and institutions here.

This story of Britain has been a powerful and at times popular one, but it has been and become even more a self-immolating version of this country, cloaking tradition, privilege and the way things are done from a sceptical eye, let alone a radical, democratising view. It has prevented us from seeing what the UK is like, shorn of mystique and mythology. Read the rest of this entry »

The Trouble with the BBC and its view of Britain

Gerry Hassan

Sunday National, December 1st 2019

The BBC is one of the defining institutions of the UK for both supporters and detractors. Increasingly the BBC is not in a good place. It is not having a good election. This follows on from criticism of its coverage of the 2014 indyref and 2016 Brexit vote.

On top of this the BBC finds itself under fire from every political direction – Corbynistas, Scottish independence supporters and right-wing Conservatives.

The media landscape the BBC sits in is profoundly changing. This is now an age of multi-platform viewing, of Netflix, Amazon, Apple TV+ and others, and of a younger generation which consumes less terrestrial TV. This raises questions about the sustainability of the BBC and the licence fee.

Philip Schlesinger of Glasgow University observes that the BBC finds itself in ‘a media space increasingly crowded by new entrants with deep pockets. By comparison, the BBC is hyper-regulated and increasingly under-financed.’

Trouble at this election has to be seen against this backdrop. The Boris Johnson-Andrew Neil non-interview controversy saw the BBC say he couldn’t do Marr unless he also did Neil and then cravenly cave in; the decision to cut the laughter of the ‘Question Time’ audience when Johnson was asked about truth; and the doctored footage of Johnson at the Cenotaph. Before that Andrew Marr was ticked off for saying to Priti Patel ‘I can’t see why you are laughing’; and prior to that there was the mess over BBC presenter Naga Munchetty reprimanded for her criticism of Donald Trump’s racism. Read the rest of this entry »

History in the Making: The End of the Era of Neo-liberalism – in the UK and Globally

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, November 27th 2019

This, we are continually told, is meant to be a seismic, even historic election – usually referring to the fundamental implications of Brexit.

What is seldom addressed is that this election also signifies far-reaching change in another aspect of politics. This is the confirmation of the jettisoning of the economic assumptions which have defined UK politics for the past 40 years – sometimes described as neo-liberalism.

This shift is a continuation and reinforcement of a change witnessed in the 2017 UK election, commented upon in a few places, then forgotten. That election saw for the first time since the 1970s a contest where neither of the two big parties, Conservative or Labour, were advocates of the neo-liberal settlement.

Labour’s shift under Jeremy Corbyn is self-evident: a rupture with the compromises of New Labour, Blair and Brown. Less discussed has been the change in the Conservatives after Cameron and Osborne, and their gleeful embrace of austerity. Hence, the Tory manifesto of Theresa May, primarily written by her chief of staff Nick Timothy, contained a powerful dismissal of the politics of asocial individualism – ‘We do not believe in untrammelled individualism. We reject the cult of selfish individualism. We abhor social division, injustice, unfairness and inequality.’ Read the rest of this entry »

The People’s Flag and the Union Jack: An Alternative History of Britain and the Labour Party
Gerry Hassan is a writer, commentator and thinker about Scotland, the UK, politics and ideas. more >
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