Wednesday, October 02, 2013

US: The political divorce: Politicians vs. People

Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey

The political divorce: Politicians vs. People

The display of utter childishness and total irresponsibility from the US Congress, shutting down sections of the US Federal Government, sending people home unpaid, giving workers four hours to clear out their offices before receiving a boot up the behind is part of a wider issue: the divorce of the politicians from the people they represent.

The title of Aristotle's Ta Politika (Affairs of State) is taken from the Greek word polis, meaning "city" (administration), which in turn provided the Latin word politia (civil administration). Fast forward two millennia, a politician, therefore, is someone who is appointed or elected to represent the people (and, unwritten, to provide a sensible and responsible administration of public affairs).

There is no need to single out Washington today for some American-bashing rant. Nevertheless, Congress' failure to approve the budget, for purely party political reasons, namely to turn Barack Obama into a lame duck as well as a wingless one, refusing to rubber-stamp Obamacare, is a shining example of the sort of infantile games those who are supposed to be responsible play to further their own interests and feather their own nests.

And the R word, Responsibility, is increasingly inexistent in the vocabulary of the political class which is steadily divorcing itself from the people they are supposed to represent. The Blank and Spoiled votes and Abstention provide a higher percentage of popular expression than many political parties receive, and the trend is for this "void" vote to grow.

But this is not only in Washington. Let us take a look at Europe, where the mismanagement by tier upon tier of representatives from the national to the local level has skillfully steered the entire continent into a financial and economic abyss, translated into at least one decade of austerity measures. Austerity is contrary to human interest, it destroys jobs, it destroys communities and brings exponential counter-effects. The people pay for these, their political masters, as a rule, do not.

And what have they done in Europe? They have provided a wonderful example of different echelons being maneuvered into place to create jobs for the boys... and girls. We are not speaking only about the European Parliament complete with its 750 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) plus one President, we are not speaking about the army of advisors and assistants that serve these illustrious 750 (failed) politicians (at the national level), we are not speaking about the battalions of advisors and assistants that gravitate around the European Council.

There are in fact no less than seven Institutions which govern the European Union, namely the Parliament, the European Council, the Consilium, or Council of the European Union (which is not the European Council, rather a weaker version of the same staffed by Ministers and not Heads of Government), the Commission, the Court of Justice, the Central Bank and the Court of Auditors.

Now, hold your breath before you Google up "EU Institutions and bodies" and you will be presented with dozens of organisms, each one with their permanent and temporary staff, administrative staff, advisors, assistants and with the power to commission "studies" and "reports" from third parties which in turn can dole out lucrative contracts to those who make a living out of preparing "reports" and "studies".

This, at a supra-national level. Moving down to the national level, we have Spain, whose 17 autonomous regions plus 2 cities have their own administrative bodies, and armies of advisors and assistants.

Then they wonder why there is a financial and economic crisis. And who is responsible, the people?

In the United Kingdom, if you steal a plasma TV screen from a shop, you get thrown into a medieval-type dungeon; if you steal the same plasma TV screen using taxpayers' funds by fiddling your Parliamentary expenses, you get a ticking off ("a jolly good talking to"), a slap on the wrists and then you issue a public statement saying "If I have to pay anything back, then I shall"). And you keep the plasma TV screen.

So we see, different levels of "politia" have been created to provide positions for the type of person who in many cases has never held a spade in his hands, has never welded two sheets of metal or dug the earth to make a living, in fact in many cases they have never done a day's work in their lives.

They have managed to justify their positions by pretending to manage our affairs but in fact, as we see today in Washington, in many cases they are self-seeking, irresponsible, incompetent and let's be honest, treacherous pieces of excrement who do not even deserve to infest a sewer. Welcome to the professional political class.

The way forward? If there are "democracies", then there must be accountability and it is in the selection and monitoring process where closer scrutiny can make a difference. Holding our politicians responsible for their future actions, not their past record (after all, they will dart off into another quango or "organism" where they will invisibly commandeer a handsome salary, often for doing nothing with our money), this is the key. Here, we, the people, can control our destiny, and our money, since those we have represented are obviously utterly incapable of it.